Family holidays ruined by earliest Easter in 90 years

Last updated at 11:59 20 March 2008

Families are caught up in holiday chaos because changes to the school year have coincided with the earliest Easter since 1913.

About a third of schools will follow the traditional route and start the two-week holidays tomorrow.

But the rest, adopting a new system, will not break up until 4 April - in which case parents will take their children out of school for the Easter Bank Holiday, only for them to return next Tuesday then break up two weeks later.

Families with children at different schools using the different dates face a huge headache.

Parents fear they will have to fork out hundreds of pounds extra for childcare because they can't take enough time off work, and have had to rethink holiday plans.

Headteachers, meanwhile, fear parents will disregard the official holidays and take their children out of school when it is convenient for them.

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "It is going to be disappointing this year for many families. I have had many people calling me saying that they are in a state because they have one child having their holiday a week before another."

Easter's date is determined by the spring equinox - the point in the year when the day and night are of equal length.

If the full moon after the equinox is on a Sunday, then Easter is on the following Sunday.

The formula was decided after much controversy among early Christians in 325. The festival cannot fall earlier than 22 March or later than 25 April.

It may look daunting to non-mathematicians but the fiendishly complex formula used to work out when Easter actually falls is:

((19*t+u-w-(u-(u+8)\25)+1)\3)+15)mod30)+(32+2*x+2*y-(19*t+u-w- (u-(u+8)\25)+1)\3)+15)mod30)-z)mod7)-7*(t+11*(19*t+u-w(u- (u+8)\25)+1)\3)+15)mod30)+22*(32+2*x+2*y-(19*t+u-w-(u- (u+8)\25)+1)\3)+15)mod30)-g)mod7)+114)\31

This year will be the earliest anyone now alive will ever see Easter because it will not fall this early again for over 100 years - in 2160.

It is not the earliest Easter can be celebrated however - that is a day earlier on March 22 though the next time it will fall then will be in 2285.

The last time it was on March 22 was 1818.

The odds are considerably better for witnessing a late Easter.

Many people are still around from the last time Easter fell on April 25 in 1943 and a good many now living will likely still be around when Easter next falls on April 25 in 2038.

But calculating when the annual Christian celebration of Christ's resurrection actually falls is something of a mystery to the average person.

The Moon's phases are not an exact even number of days so an algorithm is used to calculate the exact date of the full moon.

In addition the Christian Church decided to use the date of 21 March as the Spring Equinox even though the actual date of the Equinox varies slightly from year to year.

The exact method of calculation of the date of Easter was a hot topic for the early Christian church.

It was felt that to celebrate Christ's resurrection on the wrong day would be blasphemous so it was very important to get the day right. The general rule was agreed at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

It was many hundreds of years after this that a working algorithm was devised.

This was perfected in the 16th Century by Aloysius Lilius at the same time that he devised the Gregorian Calendar which is still used today.

Due to a rift between the Eastern and Western churches, the Eastern Church (Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox) uses a different algorithm for the calculation of Easter.

Though it is supposed to be spring, and British Summer Time starts next week, Easter weekend is going to be anything but springlike.

Weather forecasters have warned of snow, wind and icy rain as temperatures plummet.

And that's not all the bad news. The Easter holiday traffic is predicted to be the worst ever, with up to 16m cars on the roads.

The RAC pinpointed midday today as being the most congested time for traffic as drivers made an early getaway in a bid to beat the jams.