How is Greek Easter calculated?
The day is governed by these three main conditions:
- It must be based on the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar;
- It must be after the Jewish holiday of Passover;
- It must be on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which for this purpose is fixed as March 21st, but which may occur on the 20th or 22nd.
For an intense discussion of calculating Easter in general, with a short section on the special difficulties of calculating Greek Easter, see Claus Tondering's Calendar FAQ.
The Short Answer - Why Western and Eastern Easter Are Different
The basic reason for the difference between the two Easters is that "Western" Easter uses a different set of calculations based on the current Gregorian calendar created by Pope Gregory instead of the ancient Julian one, first used under the Roman emperor Julian. Under the Gregorian system, Easter can actually be in March, something that will not happen with the Julian-based method of calculating Easter.
Traveling in Greece during Easter? Be Careful
When finding out about "Easter Specials" in Greece, be cautious. Some islands with a partly Catholic population and many hotels will be offering specials on both dates, so be sure it's the one you want at the time of your visit. Go by the actual dates rather than saying something like "I'll be there Easter weekend!" Greeks will generally assume you mean Greek Easter, but many foreign travel agents may assume you mean Western Easter. And then, of course, there are some years when they really are the same, confusing things even more thoroughly.
Missed Easter? You May Be in Time for Pentecost
If you missed Easter in Greece, the observance of Pentecost offers some nice events and ceremonies at a more tourist-friendly time of year. There will be church ceremonies and on many islands and in small towns open feasts with special foods and celebrations. The Greek island of Milos is noted for its Pentecost observances, and some Greek travel agents arrange special trips to the island at this time of year. As with many Greek religious events, the previous evening is the most vivid for the visitor.
But all Greek Orthodox churches will be marking the day in some way.