Where does the word Easter come from?

Passover? Lent? Maundy Thursday? Good Friday?

A quick guide to key vocabulary describing Passover & Easter. Please excuse minor errors/oversimplifications and correct major ones in comments. Many thanks.

Two of the world’s major religions are in the midst of key festivals. They share a founding document with many names: the Hebrew Bible, also called Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, or Tanakh. To further complicate matters, what the Old Testament and the Torah are often referred to interchangeably.

This slightly over simplifies as the latter only describes the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament — sometimes known as the Law in Judaism and the Pentateuch. To summarise crudely, the Hebrew Bible/Torah cover the Moses years.

What is Passover? Where does the word come from?

The Seder is the special meal that celebrates Passover

Passover (also called Pesach or Pesah) is a key festival in Judaism. It commemorates the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. This epic story is told in the Book of Exodus, Chapter 12 of the Torah (see above).

Passover begins on the 14th day of Nisan (27th April in 2021). Most practising Jews celebrate for seven days, though some orthodox and conservative communities extend the festival to an eighth day.

The centrepiece of Passover celebrations is a special meal known as the seder. This is usually held in family homes. During the seder the story of the exodus from Egypt is read aloud from a Hebrew text called the Haggadah (telling). Rituals are acted out at key moments in the story.

During Passover it is forbidden to eat, drink, or own chametz/chometz. Chametz is food that is made from grain (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) and water and has been allowed to rise.

To ensure observance of this rule, living space should be cleaned thoroughly.

How does Passover relate to Christianity?

Passover and Easter are inextricably linked from a Christian perspective. Jesus enters Jerusalem and gathers his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal. This is what Christians refer to as the Last Supper see below.

Jesus dies on the cross on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

What is Maundy Thursday?

The word maunde in relation to the Thursday before Easter first appears in middle English the mid-15C. It describes the Last Supper and includes the ceremony of the washing of the feet of the poor or downtrodden.

The etymological origin was Old French mandé. This in turn derived from the Latin mandatum or “commandment”.

For Christians the crucial reference is to the opening words of the Latin church service for this day, Mandatum novum do vobis “A new commandment I give unto you” (John xiii:34). This new commandment is to love one another and its ultimate test the events of the following day: Good Friday.

Why ‘Good’ Friday?

It may seem odd that Christians call their day of greatest sorrow Good Friday. The confusion arises from how we perceive the word ‘Good’. Here it is used in the archaic sense of ‘holy’ or momentous.

Good Friday, called Feria VI in Parasceve in the Roman Missal, he hagia kai megale paraskeue (the Holy and Great Friday) in the Greek Liturgy, Holy Friday in Romance Languages, Charfreitag (Sorrowful Friday) in German, is the English designation of Friday in Holy Week source

In other words, Good marks the uniqueness of the Passion. It affirms the centrality of the crucifixion and resurrection to the Christian faith.

Where does the word Easter come from?

The word Easter is not in the New Testament. Nor does it feature in most translations of the Bible into vernacular languages.

There is no direct linguistic link between the English word Easter and the Jewish feast of Passover. This contrasts with the convention in Romance languages. Pâques, in French, covers both Easter and Passover. In Spanish, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the most common phrase used to describe the festival.

Scholars agree that Easter has pre-Christian roots. Beyond that there is little consensus.

  • According to the great Anglo-Saxon scholar the Venerable Bede, the Old English word eastre came Eostre, “a goddess associated with spring.”
  • April was called Eosturmonath (“Easter-month”) because in pagan times the month was dedicated to Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring.
  • The Canadian Oxford Dictionary suggests a link to the Germanic goddess Eostre. It cites Old High German ōstarūn Easter, Old Norse austr to the east, Old Slavonic ustru like summer.

Another theory is that Eostre was simply the Anglo-Saxon word for spring festivals. Linguists trace this word to roots thousands of years old meaning “shine” and “dawn.” As Spring is a season of lengthening days and increased light the word may have applied to all festivals at this time of year

The English Language — Fun Facts & FAQ (free digital teaching materials)



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