Mar 282017

According to the anonymous MS De Pascha Computus (How to Calculate Easter’s Date), written c. 243 CE by someone in north Africa (now called pseudo-Cyprian), the Sun and Moon were created by God on March 28th. So . . . Happy Birthday Sun and Moon.  Follow me as I map out a twisted trail of suspect beliefs and tortured logic.  Throughout Western history a great deal has hinged on how you calculate the date of Easter, not least being the enormous Gregorian calendar reform.  The simple statement that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox barely scratches the surface. Moderns think of events such as the equinox and a full moon as astronomically observable events.  The ancients thought otherwise. These events were calendrically fixed by complex tables, which meant that the calendar had to be trustworthy, otherwise resultant computations would be off.  Our first mistake in trying to think like the ancients is to believe that they looked at the sun, moon, planets, and stars to determine dates.  WRONG!!!  If, for example, you think that your sign of the zodiac is determined by what constellation the sun is in on your birthday, think again. Your sign of the zodiac is determined by fixed charts, not by actual observation (at least according to classical methods).

From pre-Christian times March 25th was fixed as the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere in many (not all) cultures. Many of these cultures treated the equinox as the anniversary of the day of creation of the universe: all in one go.  De Pascha Computus follows this basic idea but uses the Genesis chronology.  Hence, the MS treats March 25th as the date of the first day of creation: the day of the creation of Light. March 28th is, therefore, the anniversary of the fourth day of creation, the date on which God created the Sun and the Moon. All kinds of wobbly logic follows on from here.

Some early Christian scholars equated the March 25th anniversary of the creation of Light with the conception of Jesus.  God’s pretty orderly, don’t you know – he’d want his son conceived on an important anniversary. If you calculate 9 months from the conception you wind up with December 25th as his date of birth.  What a surprise !!! Of course, I am fudging a lot of information and debates during the 2nd to 4th centuries. You’ll have to read a lot more to get the full story of why the Church settled on December 25th as Christmas.  What I can say unequivocally is that the Church did not adopt pagan traditions such as Sol Invictus or Saturnalia for the date of Christmas: quite the opposite. The early Church wanted to distance itself from non-Christian dating systems, including the Jewish calendar. Easter quite deliberately does not coincide with Passover even though the gospels are clear that Jesus was crucified (within a day) of when the Passover occurred. John places the crucifixion on the day that the Passover lambs were slaughtered for theological reasons.  The other gospels place the crucifixion on the day after the lambs were slaughtered. No matter. Without question, the first Easter happened in the Passover season, but the early Church was not interested in making Easter coincide with Passover in perpetuity. They were bent on divorcing Christianity from Judaism, so historical dates were an irrelevance.

One piece that came out of all of this was that the early Church associated Jesus with the Sun. In Malachi 4:2 the prophesied Messiah is called the “Sun of righteousness” and De Pascha Computus then suggests that if Jesus is the Sun he must have been born on the anniversary of the creation of the Sun. Hence for that author, and some others, Christmas should be on March 28th “O the splendid and divine providence of the Lord, that on that day, the very day, on which the sun was made, the 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said, ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.'”

Confused yet?  Don’t worry. Ecclesiastical logic has always been strained, to put it mildly. I’m just messing with you.  What is pretty basic, however, is that the Sun and Moon, whether they were created on this date or not, are almost universally regarded as complementary opposites of one sort or another: Male/Female, Day/Night, Fire/Water, War/Peace . . . and so on. The one that leads to my recipe for today is Gold/Silver. This rather disregards the fact that according to modern physics the Sun is white (how else would it produce white light?). According to the testimony of our eyes the Sun is yellow (but bear in mind that the Moon is white because it reflects the light of the Sun. If the Sun were yellow the moon would be also).  My recipe is going to be about as far from the Christian West as you can get: 扬州炒饭 – Yangzhou Chao Fan – or Yangzhou-style egg fried rice, often known in China as gold over silver, or silver over gold fried rice, depending on how the eggs are cooked. In Western Chinese restaurants this dish is often called “special fried rice” and can vary enormously in ingredients and quality. Most I have tried are far from “special.” In China, Yangzhou Chao Fan comes towards the end of the meal as a grand finale, after soup and before the fruit (or sweet morsel). It is meant to be eaten by itself and is a BIG DEAL.  If you are fortunate enough to be visiting China and are invited to a banquet, beware.  You may be stunned by course after glorious course, but don’t fill up on them. When the Yangzhou Chao Fan appears at the end you are expected to praise it lavishly and eat heartily. You’ll be amazed at how much rice the Chinese can pack away. It’s a great insult to the host to simply pick at the dish because you’ve already gorged yourself.  As ever, I will give a simple caution: you will not replicate Chinese cooking in the West. Even if you own a wok your stove is not hot enough, trust me. Chinese stoves are like acetylene torches, and need to be for proper stir frying.  The good news is that the ingredients are easy to come by in the West. The recipe calls for cooked rice. This does not mean leftover rice you have hanging around. Cook the rice on the morning you are making the dish, drain it and cool it quickly to room temperature. Many, many variants exist, especially concerning ingredients.  My recipe is fairly traditional (and basic).

You have to decide, before you begin making this dish, whether you want the eggs to be ‘silver over gold’ or ‘gold over silver.’  In the first case you cook the eggs at the beginning, break them up, reserve them, and then add them to the fried rice at the end (the way I do it). In the second case you add the beaten egg to the hot rice and other ingredients when they are cooking, breaking up the eggs as they solidify.  Either way the eggs should be part yellow and part white which means that you should beat them only lightly so that the yolk and white are a little distinct. Master Chinese chefs can crack an egg into the rice as it cooks (without beating it first) and it turns out perfect. When I do it this way the dish is never even close to perfect.

Yangzhou Chao Fan


6 cups cold cooked rice
3 eggs, very lightly beaten
½ cup Chinese BBQ pork or Chinese sausage, finely diced
½  cup  raw small shrimp (or prawns)
4 spring onions, finely sliced, including the green parts
vegetable oil


Heat your wok on high heat, swirl in a little vegetable oil, let it heat, then add the eggs. Let them set quickly and break them up into small fragments. Set aside.

Heat the wok again, swirl in a little more oil if needed, and add the pork, shrimp, and onions. Cook for a minute or so, then add in the rice. Whilst stirring and tossing all the time, heat everything through. At the end add the egg fragments, mix thoroughly and serve very hot – immediately.