‘Easter’ in European languages

by Jakub Marian

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The English word “Easter” (and similar words in several other Germanic languages) is derived from the name Eostre, a Germanic goddess called *Austrō in Proto-Germanic, and ultimately comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *h₂ews-, meaning “dawn” or “east”.

The name (and many of the Easter customs celebrated around the world) may be of pagan origin, but, as we all know, the holiday is primarily a Christian holiday now, and this is reflected in the most common name of the holiday, derived from Latin Pascha, which ultimately derives from the Hebrew holiday Pesach, “Passover” (shown in red in the following map):

Easter translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian and other languages
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The holiday is mostly called either “Big Night(s)/Day(s)” (blue) or “Resurrection of Christ” (green) in Slavic languages. Interestingly, Latvian “Lieldienas” also means “Big Days”, but “Liel-” is not etymologically related to “Vel-” in Slavic languages.

Hungarian húsvét literally means “meat-taking”. Finnish pääsiäinen is derived from the verb päästä, which has many different meanings, one of which is “to escape” or “to be free”, referring to “being free from or finishing Lent”. Estonian ülestõusmispühad means “resurrection holiday”.

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