Easter is March 31 this year. Here’s why many Christians will wake up before sunrise to celebrate

Mar 29, 2024, 1:31 PM

orange and purple sunrise clouds...

Some Christians will celebrate sunrise on Easter morning. This sunrise was captured in Santa Clara, Utah. (Niesha Luke)

(Niesha Luke)

On Easter morning, many Christians wake before dawn to celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, the son of God — with Easter sunrise.

They gather outside on beaches and church lawns, in local cemeteries and national parks, marking the holy day at the very core of Christianity. For the majority of the world’s Christians, Easter Sunday — and in turn, the sunrise service tradition — will be observed on March 31 this year.

Why does Easter move every year?

Easter is not a fixed date. It swings between March 22 and April 25 based on a calendar calculation involving the moon. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains further: “Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon occurring either on or after the spring equinox (March 21).”

That means sunrise service attendees will be waking up early on the last day of March this year.

Pope Francis breaks annual Easter tradition

Is there a religious reason for Easter sunrise services?

There is biblical symbolism in the Easter worship of the early risers.

In the New Testament’s four Gospels, the resurrection story varies, but all tell of the four women followers of Jesus who discovered Christ’s empty tomb at dawn, said the Rev. Ginny Tobiassen, pastor of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where one of the most well-known sunrise services is held.

“When we as Christians stand in a graveyard at dawn, we are saying we believe in the resurrection. We are here among our dead, celebrating the resurrection,” she said.

It’s a message members of the Moravian Church — one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world — have sent for nearly 300 years.

Rain, snow to impact many parts of Utah throughout Easter weekend

When was the first-ever Easter sunrise service?

It is unclear if the Moravian Church was the first to hold an Easter sunrise service. As Tobiassen pointed out, it is an obvious choice given the Gospel stories about the early morning visit to Jesus’ empty tomb.

But the denomination’s annual tradition dates to 1732 in Herrnhut, Germany, where Moravian refugees of religious persecution fled to and established the original Renewed Moravian Church settlement, according to accounts of church history.

For the first year, the single men gathered for an all-night prayer vigil, ending with hymn singing in the graveyard they referred to as “God’s Acre.” They invited the whole community the following year, and missionaries spread the tradition beyond the settlement, including to North Carolina.

What happens during a Moravian sunrise service?

In the 1750s, Moravians settled in what would become present-day Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The city is now home to one of the oldest Easter sunrise services in the U.S. It’s known to draw thousands of people — not only Moravians but everyone from the curious to the spirituality seekers, Tobiassen said. It also can be watched online and heard on the radio.

“People who just want to know what is this thing that Winston-Salem has been doing all this time,” she said. “It’s very much a part of our community’s history.”

Started in 1772, this year will be No. 252.

In Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians observe scaled-down Good Friday celebrations

The sunrise service is put on by the Salem Congregation, which represents 13 Moravian churches in the city, including Home Moravian Church where Tobiassen serves as minister. In addition to the longstanding liturgy, the service includes a silent procession to the Salem Moravian Graveyard, also called “God’s Acre,” and concludes among the graves that go back generations.

While Moravians hold their sunrise services in church graveyards, others hold them elsewhere and in various worship styles, including at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and on Newport Beach in California.

Is there music?

Yes. Moravian congregations are known for their trombone choirs made up mostly of brass and some wind musicians, Tobiassen said, and so the sunrise service will feature a band of about 300 horn players from churches in the region paying Moravian hymns together. Many of those musicians will have been playing all night, she said. They spread out on street corners, creating a cascade of sound throughout the community as they take turns playing lines of antiphonal hymns, she said.

“The idea is they are alerting people in the community to wake up — the Lord has risen. It’s time to gather,” Tobiassen said. “Their playing expands the worship space. If you can hear a horn, you’re in church.”

Calvary Salt Lake to host non-denominational Easter service at Abravanel Hall

Are there other Easter service traditions?

Yes. Some Christian faith groups hold an Easter vigil between sunset Saturday and sunrise Sunday, which can include a renewal of believers’ baptismal vows. In some instances, Easter vigils and Easter sunrise services are one and the same.

The Episcopal Church also calls Easter vigil the “Great Vigil.” In its tradition, the service includes a four-part liturgy that the church describes as recovering “the ancient practice of keeping the Easter feast.”

It’s explained further on the church’s website: “Believers would gather in the hours of darkness ending at dawn on Easter to hear scripture and offer prayer. This night-long service of prayerful watching anticipated the baptisms that would come at first light and the Easter Eucharist. Easter was the primary baptismal occasion for the early church to the practical exclusion of all others. This practice linked the meanings of Christ’s dying and rising to the understanding of baptism.”

Utah’s Little Sahara expecting twice as many visitors Easter weekend than last year

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

KSL 5 TV Live


Layton Utah temple photo show with others in Utah announced at West Jordan and Lehi...


Three temple locations, including West Jordan and Lehi, announced

Today, the locations for three temples — two in Utah, West Jordan and Lehi, and one in Florida — were announced.

2 hours ago

The Manti Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dedicated Sunday, Apri...

Mark Jones

President Nelson rededicates the Manti Utah Temple

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rededicated the Manti Utah Temple on Sunday evening.

22 hours ago

Provo Temple begins demolition (Istvan Bartos, KSL TV)...

Daniel Woodruff

Demolition work begins at Provo Temple ahead of eventual reconstruction

Demolition work has begun on the Provo Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ahead of its eventual reconstruction.

3 days ago

The Mendoza Argentina Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be dedicated o...

Mark Jones

Important dates announced for temples in Argentina, Ohio and Pennsylvania

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday groundbreaking, open house and dedication dates for temples in Argentina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

6 days ago

The Layton Utah Temple. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)...

Mary Culbertson and Mike Anderson

A first look: Layton Utah Temple to open for public tours

The Layton Utah Temple is open to the public for tours until Saturday June 1, 2024.

7 days ago

Recommend desk in the Taylorsville Utah Temple....

Karah Brackin

A first look inside the Taylorsville Utah Temple

Media got a first look inside the Taylorsville Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ahead of the public open house.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Easter is March 31 this year. Here’s why many Christians will wake up before sunrise to celebrate