BEFORE EASTER, the secular media bombards us with anti-Christian propaganda. One thing we often hear is that “Easter” is pagan festival, that was “Christianized.” We are told that the word Easter derives from an ancient Germanic pagan deity. And so, Easter is suspect, isn’t really Christian, and we really ought not bother with going to church, and instead we should do whatever the politicians tell us to do.
But this is only an objection in English — and German, which uses the similar-sounding word “Ostern”. Now, there may be many people who may believe that Holy Writ was written in the King’s English, and so many may also believe that the word “Easter” is likewise normative. But let us consider other languages:
|Language||Word for Easter||Meaning|
|Arabic||عيد الفصح, ʿĪd al-Fiṣḥ||Festival of Passover|
|Arabic||عيد القيامة, ʿĪd al-Qiyāmah||Festival of the Resurrection|
|Belarusian||Вялікдзень, Vyalikdzyen’||Great Day|
|Bulgarian||Великден, Velikden||Great Day|
|Croatian||Velja noć||Great Night|
|Estonian||lihavõtted||Taking of the meat|
|Hungarian||húsvét||Taking of the meat|
|Japanese||復活祭, fukkatsusai||Resurrection celebration|
|Korean||부활절, buhwaljeol||Resurrection Day|
|Macedonian||Велигден, Veligden||Great Day|
|Mandarin||復活節, fùhuó jié||Resurrection celebration|
|Slovak||Veľká noc||Great Night|
|Slovenian||Velika noč||Great Night|
|Ukrainian||Великдень, Velykden||Great Day|
In most of these languages on this list, the local word for Easter literally means “Passover,” a very appropriate name. “Resurrection” is highly appropriate, and “Great Night” and “Great Day” point out that this is the greatest feast day in the Christian calendar — a feast day that begins the night before, with the Easter Vigil. Lent also ends, and so we can “take to the meat” once more, if our local Church has strict penances.
Most of what we really know about the word Easter is from the book, De temporum ratione, by Saint Bede (d. A.D. 735):
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.The German word Ostern likewise has ancient roots relating to a Germanic deity. But the popularity of the word Ostern likely was reinforced by Luther’s use of the word in his German translation of the Bible, as the popularity of ‘Easter’ may have been strengthened with its use in English translations. I wonder how much influence the Reformation and Nationalism had on using these old names, rather than the Catholic name of Pasch? English-speaking Catholics do still use the phrase ‘Paschal Tide’ to describe the Easter season.
Eosturmonath 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.
However, both the words Easter and Ostern, despite their pagan roots, are related to the word “eastern,” the direction of the rising sun, and so are unexpectedly fitting names for the Rising of the Son of God from the tomb!