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Why are Easter and Passover so late in 2022? Blame the moon and a cacophony of calendars

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By mid-February, stores across the country had already rolled out their Easter and Passover fare, offering a harvest of chocolate eggs, marshmallow bunnies, stacks of matzo and kosher cakes. 

Apparently, they didn't get the memo. 

Passover won't start until the evening of Friday, April 15, this year. Easter Sunday is uncommonly late, falling on April 17 for the first time in 62 years. 

In a year when disrupted supply chains have seemingly delayed everything, it makes sense: Even our holidays will keep us waiting in 2022.

The arrival of Ash Wednesday this week marks the start of the 40-day Lenten season, culminating in Easter, when Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection. Easter Sunday is considered a "moveable feast," meaning its position on the calendar can vary.

Christian tradition sets the holiday on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox, the start of spring.

That's a mouthful, but the upshot is that Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25. 

This year, the first full moon of the spring — the Paschal full moon, as Christians call it — comes on Saturday, April 16, pushing Easter to the 17th. It's the first Easter on that date since 1960 and the latest since 2019, when the festival fell on April 21.

According to a tally on the U.S. Census Bureau website, April 25 Easters, the latest possible, are exceedingly rare, occurring only 1% of the time in the last 400 years. The previous one came in 1943, and the next won't arrive until 2038. 

What determines the date of Passover?

Passover, the eight-day period commemorating the Jews' liberation from slavery in Egypt, falls on the same day of the Hebrew calendar each year, the 15th day of the month of Nissan. But the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles, so it doesn't stay in sync with the secular, 365-day calendar based on the Earth's path around the sun. 

In order to keep the Jewish year aligned with the seasons of the solar calendar, Jews periodically add leap years that include an extra month. This year is one of them. 

Whew. Got all that? 

Orthodox Easter also comes late

Further complicating matters, the Eastern Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar adopted by the Catholic Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. So Orthodox Easter, also known as Greek Easter or Pascha, falls on April 24 this year.  

Since the early days of the Christian church, determining Easter's precise date has been a source of continued argument, said the Rev. Robert Wade, presiding elder for the Camden district of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey. 

"For one, the followers of Christ neglected to record the exact date of Jesus' resurrection," he said. "From that point on, the matter only grew increasingly more complex." 

Passover and Easter have a close connection, of course: The Last Supper is said to be a Seder at which Jesus celebrated with his Jewish followers the night before he was crucified. But the two events don't always overlap because of those astronomical discrepancies. 

This year's crop of late holidays may demand patience, but they offer a leg up to businesses, said Menachem Lubinsky, the CEO of Brooklyn-based Lubicom Marketing and an authority on the kosher food market. 

"Store owners tell me that when the holidays are late, they can breathe," he said.  

Follow Deena Yellin on Twitter: @deenayellin