Astronomy, Passover and Easter
The vernal equinox doesn’t mean much in a town of year-around good weather. It’s just another day in paradise. It means more to the denizens from northern climes, weary of ice and snow. I chatted with two such visitors at church last Sunday. One was from Norway. Some years ago, he discovered Laguna, loved it, and regularly returns with his lovely wife. The other had grandparents from the northwest who back in the ‘40s bought three Emerald Bay lots where they built their dream house. The home is gone now, but childhood memories bring them back. The visitors were loving our warm, sunny days and it got me thinking about the vernal equinox, the start of Spring.
If you took a trigonometry class, you may remember its inventor, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Hipparchus was the clever fellow who noticed how the earth’s poles changed angle relative to the sun in a circular way, causing the plane of the equator to pass through the center of the sun twice a year. The moment of alignment, called the “equinox,” was used to mark the beginning of autumn and spring.
The “solstices,” on the other hand, mark the moment when the equatorial plane is the furthest from the sun’s center—the days of most or least sunlight. In Laguna, we experience them as the sunset furthest to the north, or to the south, of Catalina Island. Laguna could actually define the seasons as the periods when the sun sets north, behind, or south of Catalina. That would be cool. On further thought, the Acjachemen people, the indigenous folks who lived here millennia ago, probably did this.
This raises a problem with the annual rotation of the earth’s poles—it’s not exactly annual. The astronomers calculate 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds as the precise length of the year. So, the calendar is always getting ahead of itself, which we solve by skipping a day every four years.There’s a point to this. In the beginning, Good Friday aligned with Passover, the Jewish festival celebrating Israel’s escape from Egyptian slavery under Moses. Due to the human tendency to schism over unity, the dating of Passover and Good Friday drifted apart. Easter was defined as the Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox—ranging from March 22 to April 25. The start of Passover is based on the Hebrew lunar calendar and varies from March 21 to April 20. We look to the heavens to set these dates.
The Easter preparatory season of Lent follows Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and began March 2, on Ash Wednesday. Preparation for Passover may follow Purim, observed March 16 to 17, which celebrates the saving of the Jewish people by Haman and the lovely Esther. Which informs the point of these events—our shared, inborn need for worship and sanctification. The Beautiful Wife and I wish a wondrous season to all. There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]View Our User Comment Policy