BEIRUT: Giant pink eggs will hang from every available banister at Dbayeh’s ABC Mall for the next month and a half, until all of the country’s Christians have celebrated their respective Easters.
“It’s very hard to keep the spirit alive for one month,” said a marketing representative at the mall, north of Beirut. “It’s more costly for us to do two Easters, but you have to please all religions.”
Years like this – when Western and Eastern Easters fall more than a month apart – underscore the diversity within Lebanon’s Christian community.
The government recognizes 12 different Christian sects, and the country’s copious public holidays can burden institutions dedicated to treating the country’s religions equally. But others say this year’s drawn out Easter season has its festive benefits.
Shopping centers like ABC, public event planners and sweets shops face two waves of Easter festivities that must be planned for in advance.
Offices and universities must accommodate a spring dotted by days off and many schools face two separate weeklong holidays.
In 2012, local institutions faced an easier task when the two Easters fell only a week apart. And the year before that, both Eastern and Western Easter fell on April 24.
The two Sunday feasts don’t follow a regular schedule; for instance, they’ll coincide next year, and then again in 2017, but then will drift apart until 2034, according to the World Council of Churches.
The reason for the different dates comes down to a complicated mixture of imperfect astronomical math based on two different calendars, said Reverend Bruce Schoup, campus minister at Haigazian University in Hamra.
Some local churches – most Catholic churches, including the Maronite, and Protestant faiths – follow the Gregorian calendar, developed in the late 1500s. This is the same municipal calendar used around the world.
Most Eastern churches – mainly Orthodox, including Copts, and a few remaining Eastern Catholic sects – follow the older Julian calendar put in place several decades before Christ’s believed date of birth.
Like the modern Gregorian calendar, which has to make up for its imperfections with February leap years, the Julian calendar is also based on imperfect math, and after more than 2,000 years, lags behind astronomical reality by around 13 days – for example, the Julian New Year falls on Jan. 14.
In addition to the different calendars, Orthodox religions insist on placing Easter after the Jewish Passover holiday, perhaps in keeping with the chronology of biblical events. Christ was crucified following Passover. But as in this year, Western Easter sometimes falls during or before Passover.
The World Council of Churches has tried to bring the two Easters together for some time, Schoup said. In a 1997 meeting in Aleppo, Syria, the WCC decided all Orthodox religions would switch to the Gregorian calendar, thus syncing the two Easters forever.
“It was agreed that all the churches would move to the Gregorian calendar in 2001, but that was not implemented by the Orthodox because they thought their membership would resist,” Schoup said.
Respect for religious tradition is no stranger in these parts, and so for now the country’s various institutions make sure to accommodate the two, often separate, celebrations.
“There’s a real effort among Christians not to turn this into something we really fight about,” Schoup said.
After all, outside of the church services, the public expressions of Easter are essentially the same – a relief for local event planners.
Beirut Celebrations is planning festivities in Downtown’s Zaitunay Bay for both Easters.
The two will feature the same costumed bunnies, children’s games, shopping booths for adults, egg hunts and parades, said Najwa Baroody, Beirut Celebrations director.
The first festival will start Sunday and end April 1. The second will begin May 1 and end May 6. The festivals run each day from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
“It’s a lot of work,” Baroody said. “But it’s not right to do just one for Western or Eastern Easter.
“It takes a lot of effort to find the sponsors and people to participate,” she added.
One benefit to having two Easters is the large pool of participants whose Easter won’t be interrupted by the festival. Many of this week’s participants won’t actually be celebrating Easter until May, and a large portion of May’s participants will already have celebrated in March, Baroody said.
Other companies that cater to Easter may benefit from a drawn-out season, said Serge Zayoud of Lume Candles.
Lume, located in Broummana, supplies candles to local shops and provides the traditional Paschal candles carried during Easter Mass, as well as a collection of decorated colored eggs and bunny candles.
Based on sales analysis, Zayoud said the dispersion of the two Easters might have a positive effect on Lume’s business. “The Orthodox will buy when it’s time and the Catholic will buy as well when it’s time; it does not make a difference,” he said in an email from Sweden.
Many patisseries that serve up traditional maamoul cookies to children’s art workshops offering egg painting will also likely benefit from a longer Easter season.
“We actually think it might even be positive for business since it makes the Easter feeling prolonged for a whole month,” Zayoud said.
Back at ABC Mall, the marketing representative – who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to speak about the Easter festivities – said that in the broader sense, two Easters are good.
“When they do these celebrations the Lebanese take it to the extreme,” she said, so what’s better than two excuses to celebrate.