Why do we call the upcoming liturgical season "Easter"?

My mother is an evangelical and she was telling me just now that we shouldn’t call Resurrection Sunday “Easter” because that is a pagan name. Someone tell me, why do we Catholics still call it by that name?

Three words: force of habit. English-speakers had already called Easter by that name since before the 8th century, because Easter usually fell on April - a month called by the Anglo-Saxons ‘Ēostre’s-month’ (Ēostre is the Old English/Anglo-Saxon name for an obscure Germanic goddess usually associated with the dawn or spring).

Eosturmonath Ēostre’s-month] 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. (Venerable St. Bede, AD 725)

P.S. Only English-speakers and speakers of High German dialects (and speakers of a few minority Slavic languages in Eastern Europe) really call Easter ‘Easter’ (Ostern/Oostern/Ouschteren/Ostere/Oschdere/Jastrë/jutry/jatšy, etc.). Again, mainly because both the Anglo-Saxons and the High Germans originally called the month of April ‘Ēostre’s / Ôstar’s Month’. The original Christian term - and the term used in many other languages - is Pascha ‘Passover’.

Great response! Thank you, God bless and Happy Easter Triduum :slight_smile:


However, even this may only have been supposition on Bede’s part. In the same section he says the winter festival of Modranecht was so named “because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night,” hardly the statement of a historian with first-hand information.

Eosturmonath may simply mean “the month of opening”, appropriate for a time of opening buds and arguably a better fit for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon months. They tended to be named after agricultural or meteorological events, hence “mud-month” and “blood-month”. Only one other month is, according to Bede, named after a goddess – Hrethmonath – and like Eostre, there is no other evidence of Hretha anywhere.

The Church never bothers with altering matters of custom provided the customs aren’ t of themselves evil. There was never any doubt in Christian society that the derivation of the name ‘Easter’ was unimportant - only badly - educated fundamentalists and worse - educated ppagans are confused by it. We call this Friday Good Friday (Godes, God’s) even though the weekday is named for the Norse goddess Freya.

In my discussions with them, I’ve found that most American evangelicals don’t seem to think in terms of a world view. There are a BILLION Catholics, and only about 16% of them live in the mostly English speaking North America. To reiterate what Patrick said, most of the other languages call it by another name, generally stemming from the hebrew word “pesach” which means passover. For the Church, it went from Hebrew to Greek and then to Latin “Pascha”. By the way, I think the official language of the Church is still Latin which would probably mean that the Church would call it Pascha.

I’m not a huge fan of wiki, but below you can see some of the names from other countries.

In nearly all Romance languages, the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Latin Pascha. In Spanish, Easter is Pascua, in Italian and Catalan Pasqua, in Portuguese Páscoa and in Romanian Paşti. In French, the name of Easter Pâques also derives from the Latin word but the s following the a has been lost and the two letters have been transformed into an â with a circumflex accent by elision. In Romanian, the only Romance language of an Eastern church, the word Înviere (resurrection, cf. Greek Ἀνάστασις, [anástasis]) is also used.

Albanian, although not a Romance language, borrows the Latin Pascha as Pashka. The holiday is frequently referred to in the plural, Pashkët.

In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In the Brittonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish Cáisc, Gaelic Càisg and Manx** Caisht.** These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Cháisc, A’ Chàisg and Yn Chaisht.

In Dutch, Easter is known as Pasen and in the North Germanic languages Easter is known as påske (Danish and Norwegian), påsk (Swedish),** páska**r (Icelandic) and páskir (Faeroese). The name is derived directly from Hebrew Pesach.[33] The letter å is pronounced /oː/, derived from an older aa, and an alternate spelling is paaske or paask.

In Russia, Pascha (Paskha), is a borrowing of the Greek form via Old Church Slavonic

Prayer Warrior,

In the U.S. all the Roman Catholic churches still call it Easter. And isn’t Passover the Jewish holiday and not a Christian one? Easter comes after Passover. They are two distinct celebrations, it seems, and it appears that Easter is not Passover so that answer doesn’t seem to work. :shrug:

Out of all the replies given, I still haven’t seen an answer for the OP. Is Easter really just a re-labelling of a pagan celebration of the goddess Eostre?

A little history lesson is in order.

Jesus was crucified around the Passover season - we know that at least from the gospels. In fact, even before the gospels Paul already seems to know this tradition. In 1 Corinthians (written around the 50s AD - just around twenty years after Jesus’ crucifixion) he writes: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (5:7-8) There’s the Passover references there: the unleavened bread, the Passover lamb.

Easter is really the Christian Passover (Pascha in Greek and Latin) - there’s no dispute about that. They’re only celebrated on different dates today because Christians later made an effort to make the day they celebrated their ‘Passover’ different from the Jewish one (celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan).

In the 2nd century, there was really no agreement among Christians as to when the Christian Passover (which commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus) should be celebrated. Some Christians - mostly those from Asia Minor (modern Turkey) - celebrated it on the same day as the Jewish Passover: the 14th of Nisan, no matter what day of the week it fell. These Christians were called quartodecimans - ‘fourteenthers’. Most other Christians, however, celebrated it on a Sunday within that month, because Jesus rose again according to Christian tradition on the first day of the week (= Sunday).

The whole Quartodeciman controversy (as it is called) became a hot issue for Christians - mainly because this is tied in to the issue of whether Christians should keep following Jewish customs or not. Basically, both sides tried to appeal to apostolic tradition - the Quartodecimans claimed that their custom came from John the apostle, while the other side claimed the authority of apostles like Peter and Paul. In 193, a local council was held in Rome, headed by the bishop of Rome, (Pope) Victor. This council (it was one of many councils that tried to settle the issue) declared that Pascha should be celebrated on a Sunday and letters were sent to bishops in the East, requiring them to conform. The same year, another council was convened at Ephesus; Polycrates, the local bishop, basically rejected the command of the Roman council and declared that they would keep their custom. Victor tried to have Polycrates and those who agreed with his decision excommunicated, were it not for the intervention of some bishops (which included Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons) who asked that Victor be more moderate. Since then it seems that Quartodecimans dwindled in number; by the 3rd and 4th century, they are only a small minority.

During the 4th century, another controversy about the date of Pascha emerged. By this time most churches had already agreed that it should be celebrated on a Sunday, but the question is, on which Sunday? You had two competing schemes for this: Christians in Antioch celebrated Pascha on the Sunday after the Jewish 14 Nisan. But Christians in Alexandria in Egypt (and in most other areas like Rome) calculated the time of Easter for themselves, paying no attention to the Jews. Some Jewish communities used methods of fixing their month of Nisan that sometimes put the 14 Nisan before the spring equinox, but in Egypt, Christians accepted it as a first principle that Pascha must occur after the equinox and that the Jews who put 14 Nisan before the equinox were being wrong.

The First Council of Nicaea in 325 basically sided with the Alexandrian method, declaring that Pascha is always to be held on a Sunday in a lunar month chosen according to Christian criteria (not in the month of Nisan as defined by Jews), and that every church should adopt this position. However, beyond these guidelines the council did not make any explicit ruling about the details of the computation, giving rise to a few more controversies about the exact methods of calculation before Pascha/Easter came to be celebrated the way it does now.

“We” don’t. The Catholic term is the Paschal season. It’s actually a Protestant term; Martin Luther was the first to use the term “Easter” in connection with the Paschal season and, since England became Protestant, it uses that term, but it is not the term that the Catholic Church uses…

Nope. If Bede’s quotation is of any indication the Anglo-Saxons in the 8th century already called Pascha ‘Easter’, and there were no Protestants then (at least no serious historian would claim that). If anything, the fact that both English and German share the same terms for Easter, which derived the Old English and Old High German names for the month of April (OE: Ēosturmōnath / Ēastermōnath, OHG: Ôstarmânoth) - both attested before Luther was even born - speaks to me against this theory. That, and the fact that you have references to ‘Ester’ in Middle English texts. (For instance: books.google.co.jp/books?id=cC6QEyzzu7cC&pg=PA536)

But even if we grant (for the sake of argument) that applying the term ‘Easter’ for Pascha really was Luther’s invention, what’s wrong with it? I mean, I know Luther’s not very popular around these parts, but c’mon, don’t blame the guy for more than he is due. :wink:

Euery brother and suster iij tymes in the yere, that is Cristemasse, Ester, and Whitsontide, must be

In expenses at the feste of Estre, iii lib. of newe wex to the Pascall.

Sorry, I didn’t make it past the twenty minute edit limit. Anyways, there is an entry in the Middle English Dictionary for ‘ester’, and gives quotations from period texts.

To þan Eastran heold se cyng his hired on Winceastre. (Peterborough Chronicle, ca. 1121)

He ferde to Lunden. He wes þere an æstre. (Layamon, The Brut, c. 1200s)

By-ffore six dayes of Ester as a palme-sone eue Iesus wente to Bethanye. (Temporale (Passion of Christ), 1325)

In expenses at the feste of Estre, iii lib. of newe wex to the Pascall.

Þere ȝe ssolleþ þis Ester beo & þis Witesone tid also. (Legendary: St. Brendan, ca. 1325)

On his heued he bere Þe holy croun of thorn, At ester, at wissontide, & at seyn iames day wiþ pride. (Roland and Vernagu, 1330)

Wiþ grete desire I haue desired þis Eestren, þat is þis Paske. (The Book of Vices and Virtues)

Þo neiȝed þe feste of ester And þe folk of alle þe londes aboute comen te Jerusalem. (Prose Life of Christ (Gospel Harmony), ca. 1400)

Whan tyme of Estern er ellys Paske was come …

Þe chapel þer owyr blyssed Lord aperyd to hys blysful Modyr on Estern Day at morwyn. … (The Book of Margery Kempe, Book 1, 1438)

From Estern to Whitsontyde, outake rogacion days and Withsone Eue, thou shalt ete at mydday and sithen at euen. (Aelred of Rievaulx, De Institutione Inclusarum, 1450)

The sayd dekyn schall worden a barrell on schere thursday and on ester evyn and on wyttson evyn. (Clerical ordinances from Coventry, Bristol, and Lothbury, 1462)

… The Barons were sore agreued and put it of in delay till the hyghe feste of Eester. (Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, ca. 1470)

Euery brother and suster iij tymes in the yere, that is Cristemasse, Ester, and Whitsontide, must be shreven and houseled. (Rule of the Order of Penitents (Third Order of St. Francis), ca. 1500)

And that’s just a small sample. I highly doubt Martin Luther was actually born during the 11th century. :stuck_out_tongue: :wink:

P.S. I also checked the Bosworth-Toller An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1921, online version here if you don’t like to flip pages: bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/043504), and sure enough, there were entries for (and quotes referring to) ‘Easter’-related terms like eáster / eástre, eáster-æfen (Easter eve), eáster-dæg (Easter day), eáster-fæsten (‘Easter-fast’ = Lent), eáster-freólsdæg, eáster-gewuna (Easter custom), Eáster-sunnandæg (Easter Sunday), or Eáster-tid (Eastertide) (pp. 174-175).

Right you are.

“Easter” is derived from the Old Teutonic German word for “resurrection”. It just so happens that it shares the same root word as the word for “dawn” from which the name of the pagan goddes is derived. I’m afraid Venerable Bede was mistaken.

This is one of those things that has been generally accepted for so long that no one questions whether it is actually true. I did the research and discovered otherwise :slight_smile:

“Easter” is a perfectly good Christian term to use, although it only pertains to the 3rd day of Pascha.

Do you have any source for this?

The fact that most other languages (including older languages) call the feast some variant of “Pascha” is important because it shows that the feast itself is not inherently connected to the possible Germanic goddess. The Feast of the Resurrection was being celebrated before the English language even existed, so it was certainly not “Easter” in its origins.

While the overlap with the Jewish Passover is not exact, as others have pointed out the last days of Jesus occurred around the Passover festival and early Christians made much of the symbolism of Jesus as the true Passover lamb whose blood shields us from eternal death. The adjective “Paschal” is still used for many events surrounding Easter even in English, and in most other languages the feast still bears that name. Of all the Christian holy days, Easter is the one we can definitely say is a borrowing from another, older religion’s celebration – but that celebration is the Passover of the Jews, not any pagan feast.

The sole connection of the goddess Eostre with the Christian festival is in the common English and German name for the day. That doesn’t mean that the Feast of the Resurrection somehow originated as a festival honoring her. (Or worse, somehow involved the long-dead worship of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, which shows up in Internet memes this time of year but makes even less sense.) We also celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday in the week prior, and I assure you that at no time do we honor Thor, Frigga, or Saturn in the process just because the names of our days of the week are based on their names.


Not readily available. I did the research when I had a large library at my disposal at my workplace in Greece, surrounded by university professors and multi-lingual graduates from the Philology department of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. I also only did the research for my own interest and had no intention of writing a paper on the subject (not my field anyway), so I didn’t keep records of references.

That was more than 10 years ago and I’m now living back in Australia.

If you have access to a linguistics department library in a large university, you’ll be able to find your own references in no time :slight_smile:

I do know Easter/Ostern are possibly also related to the Old High German adverb *ôstar, ‘eastward’, ‘toward the rising sun’ (cf. Old Norse austr, Old English ēast(or)). I don’t know about ‘resurrection’, though I guess one could make the case that ‘Easter’ = ‘east’ = ‘rising’.

From the Oxford English Dictionary.

Etymology: Cognate with Old Dutch ōster- (in ōstermānōth April, lit. ‘Easter-month’), Old Saxon ōstar- (in ōstarfrisking paschal lamb; Middle Low German ōsteren, ōstern, plural), Old High German ōstara (usually in plural ōstarūn; Middle High German ōster (usually in plural ōstern), German Ostern, singular and (now chiefly regional) plural), probably < the same Germanic base as EAST adv. (and hence ultimately cognate with Sanskrit uṣas, Avestan ušah-, ancient Greek (Ionic and Epic) ἠώς, (Attic) ἕως, classical Latin aurōra, all in sense ‘dawn’). For alternative (and less likely) etymologies see the references cited below. It is noteworthy that among the Germanic languages the word (as the name for Easter) is restricted to English and German; in other Germanic languages, as indeed in most European languages, the usual word for Easter is derived from the corresponding word for the Jewish Passover; compare PASCH n.

Bede (De Temporum Ratione 15. 9: see quot. below) derives the word < Eostre (a Northumbrian spelling; also Eastre in a variant reading), according to him, the name of a goddess whose festival was celebrated by the pagan Anglo-Saxons around the time of the vernal equinox (presumably in origin a goddess of the dawn, as the name is to be derived from the same Germanic base as EAST adv.: see above). This explanation is not confirmed by any other source, and the goddess has been suspected by some scholars to be an invention of Bede’s. However, it seems unlikely that Bede would have invented a fictitious pagan festival in order to account for a Christian one. For further discussion and alternative derivations see D. H. Green Lang. & Hist. Early Germanic World (1998) 351–3, J. Udolph & K. Schäferdieck in J. Hoops’s Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde (ed. 2, 2003) XXII. 331–8, and for a parallel development compare YULE n. Bede’s etymology comes in a passage explaining the origin of the Old English names of the months:
[INDENT]a735 Bede De Temporum Ratione xv, Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes.

Compare Old English Ēastermōnað April, cognate with or formed similarly to Old Dutch ōstermānōth (in a translation from German), Old High German ōstarmānōd (Middle High German ōstermānōt, German Ostermonat, now archaic) < the Germanic base of EASTER n. + the Germanic base of MONTH n.

A borrowing of the Old English word into West Slavonic (during the time of the Anglo-Saxon mission to Germany) perhaps underlies Polabian jostråi, Lower Sorbian jatšy, (regional) jastry, Kashubian jastrë, all in sense ‘Easter’; however, it has been argued that these are rather to be derived from a native base meaning ‘clear, bright’, and thus (via a connection with the coming of spring) show a parallel development to the Germanic word.

The form of the word in Old English shows much (especially dialectal) variation: in West Saxon usually a weak feminine plural (Ēastran; frequently in form Ēastron (also Ēastrun), probably reflecting a variant form of the Germanic thematic element: see A. Campbell Old Eng. Gram. (1959) §619.1), also occasionally found in the singular (Ēastre); an apparently strong feminine plural by-form (Ēastra), apparently Mercian, is rarely attested; in Northumbrian usually a strong neuter plural (Ēostru, Ēostro), also occasionally found in the singular (sometimes apparently invariably as Ēostro, sometimes in inflected forms, e.g. genitive Ēostres). The combining form Ēaster is widely attested.

The β. forms represent Old English Ēastran (the form of both the weak feminine plural and the inflected form of the weak feminine singular) and its later reflexes. The forms of some compounds in Middle English and early modern English may reflect compounds of the Old English weak feminine genitive singular or plural (respectively Ēastran and Ēastrena).[/INDENT]

This is what’s interesting: in Old English and in Old High German, the terms for Easter are (usually) in the plural; so they apparently spoke of ‘Easters’.

Some random ‘Easter’-related terms in Old English.

ēaster-sunnandæg (eastorsunnandæg): ‘Easter Sunday’
ēaster-dæg, ēastron-dæg ‘Easter day’: Easter Sunday; by extension also the (Jewish) Passover
ēaster-wucu: ‘Easter week’
ēaster-tīd, ēastron-tīd: ‘Eastertide’
ēaster-fæsten (eastorfæsten) ‘Easter-fast’: Lent
ēaster-frēolsdæg ‘Easter-freeday (i.e. feastday, festival)’: Easter Sunday
se easterlica æfen: ‘the Easter-eve’; se easterlica restedæg ‘the Easter-restday (sabbath)’; ēaster-niht ‘Easter-night’: Holy Saturday
seo easterlice emniht: The Easter / vernal equinox (emniht ‘equinox’ = emn from ef(e)n ‘even, equal’ + niht ‘night’)

In Old English, ‘Easter’ is oftentimes used both for the Christian Pascha and the Jewish Passover (again, way earlier than Martin Luther :D), just like the word ‘Pasch’ and ‘paschal’ are used for both feasts. For example, ēaster-symbel ‘Easter-feast/banquet’ is used in an OE marginalia to John 19:42 in the Lindisfarne Gospels (written there as eastrosymb’) to mean ‘Passover’.

One can check 'em in the DOE (Dictionary of Old English) site. Or if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of subscribing, the Bosworth-Toller dictionary I linked to earlier. bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/043504

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