Different Names for Easter

I was reading an article from uCatholic that addressed the claims that Easter is named after the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar (spoiler alert: it’s not), and in the article, they listed some different names for Easter in different languages. I thought these were pretty cool, so I decided to share them.

  • Bulgarian – Paskha
  • Danish – Paaske
  • Dutch – Pasen
  • Finnish – Pääsiäinen
  • French – Pâques
  • Indonesian – Paskah
  • Italian – Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German – Paisken
  • Norwegian – Påske
  • Portuguese – Páscoa
  • Romanian – Pasti
  • Russian – Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic – Càisg
  • Spanish – Pascua
  • Swedish – Påsk
  • Welsh – Pasg

What’s especially interesting is that all of the words listed here are derivatives of the Hebrew word for the Passover, Pesach, which ultimately isn’t too surprising because the Passover feast was supposed to foreshadow Christ’s death on Good Friday. The notable exceptions to this naming convention are the German Ostern and our own English Easter. Why is this?

Well, there are two theories as to how the different names came about. One of those theories we get courtesy of St. Bede the Venerable, who was alive at roughly the same time that Easter/Ostern was being introduced into use (sometime during the 8th century). The peoples using those words used the Teutonic language, and they had a goddess named Eoster (or Eostre). There was a month in the year named after her, Eosturmanath, which just so happened to be about the time when the Resurrection was celebrated. After they converted, they continued to use Eosturmanath to describe that time of the year even though they no longer worshipped Eoster (kind of like how the days of the week are still named after the Germanic/Norse gods even though we don’t worship them).

St. Bede’s direct quote:

“Eosturmanath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month,” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

The other theory is that the name was a mistranslation. Easter Week used to be known as Hebdomada Alba (White Week) because of the tradition for the newly baptized to wear their white garments for the entire week after Easter. Apparently a few people mistranslated the phrase to mean “the shining dawn” or “the shining light of day”, which, in Teutonic, would have been rendered eostarun.

But whatever name you call it, it still remains the most important feast of the liturgical year, the feast around which all of the other feasts are based.

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