Etymology of ‘Easter’

So the name “Easter,” as it refers to the Christian festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, apparently derives from the name of a pagan celebration. According to my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 edition, “Easter” comes from an old English variation of “Eastre,” “a goddess whose feast was celebrated at the vernal equinox.” (See also sources here and here.)

Another word for this Christian holiday, also according to the SOED, is “Pasch,” which, like non-English words for the same event (for example, the Spanish “Pascua“), seems to be derived from the Latin and Greek and, ultimately, Hebrew, words for “Passover.”

So what’s weird is that these two names for this most-uniquely Christian of holidays both come from non-Christian religions, and specifically, “Easter” and “Passover” are actual holidays in these other religions. Was this perhaps a marketing move on the part of the early church leaders, a way to convert the non-believers by appending a Christian celebration onto celebrations the non-believers were already having, not unlike Christmas?

One response to “Etymology of ‘Easter’

  1. Yes, that’s what I was taught in my Philosophy of Religions class many years ago. The founding Christian fathers operated under the theory that it was easier to get people to go along with a new religion if the new celebrations were superimposed on the ones and at the times people were used to celebrating anyway. I believe that is also the rationale behind Christmas being celebrated at the winter solstice instead of April (or whenever) scholars believe Jesus was actually born.

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