Three major religious holidays coincide this week. As the Islamic holy month of Ramadan reaches its halfway point, Jews begin celebrating Passover at sundown tonight, and Sunday marks Easter for many Christians around the world.
In the U.S., most Muslims (80%) mark Ramadan by fasting, most Jews (62%) attend a Seder at the beginning of Passover, and most Christians (62%) say they normally attend Easter services (although attendance has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic), according to various Pew Research Center surveys in recent years.
A religious knowledge survey conducted in 2019 also found that most U.S. adults overall know that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus (81%) and that Ramadan is an Islamic holy month (60%).
On Friday, Jewish people celebrate Passover to mark the exodus of Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. On the same day, Christians observe Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus before celebrating Easter Sunday when he rose from the dead. Over the weekend, Muslims will continue observing Ramadan, a month of prayers and fasting to memorialize the transmission of the Koran.
The overlap of the three observances occurs about every 33 years, according to Lees McCrae College. Religious groups and others use the rare occasion to call for harmony between the traditions.
The coincidence is so uncommon because the three observances are based on different calendars and factors that determine when the holidays occur. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s messiah, under the Roman governor of Judea to atone for humanity’s sins.
Passover occurs in the middle of Nisan, a month in the Hebrew calendar, on the first full moon, putting it in proximity to Easter. The holiday begins at sundown and includes seder, a special meal meant to remind Jewish people of the hardship they endured in Egypt.
Ramadan is Islam’s holiest month using the lunar calendar. Because the calendar follows the cycles of the moon, unlike the Gregorian calendar commonly used in the West, Ramadan falls on different times each year.
During Ramadan, Muslims believe God revealed the sacred text of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, the first verses of which were passed down on “The Night of Power” (Laylat al-Qadr in Arabic). Muslims abstain from food or drink from dawn to sunset for the entire month and are encouraged to contemplate their relationship with God.