Whatever day

I am convinced that today is Easter Day, but a lot of people think it’s Easter Sunday. This is partly simple familiarity: The Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book, A Prayer Book for Australia, the Anglican Communion’s Cycle of Prayer and probably every hymn book I’ve ever used all use Easter Day. It is partly a matter of logic and redundancy. The Day of Resurrection has always been celebrated on ‘the first day of the week’/‘the Lord’s Day’, therefore ‘Sunday’ is redundant. Forty days later comes Ascension Day, not Ascension Thursday. But there’s also Ash Wednesday, Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday, so logic and redundancy only get me so far.

Alas, Google Ngrams shows that Easter Sunday is about three to four times as common as Easter Day. Does this make Easter Sunday ‘right’ and Easter Day ‘wrong’. No. I have the right to choose what I say (I can even say ‘the Day of Resurrection’ if I want to) and everyone else has the right to choose what they say (even if they’re wrong). (Though I doubt that many people ‘choose’ what to say in this case.) I cannot possibly say Easter Sunday and I am even fighting the urge to put it in scare quotes every time I write it.

I am also convinced that yesterday was Easter Eve, but a lot of people think it was Easter Saturday. Google Ngrams supports me on this, hooray, with Easter Eve historically the most common, but challenged by Easter Saturday from about 1980 to 2000, pulling ahead again since then. (‘A lot of people’ includes the Roman Catholic Church; the vatican.va site refers to Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday.)

But my biggest problem is with the word Easter itself, being derived from the name of the pagan goddess Ēostre. It’s hard to fight against the secularisation and commercialism of the festival (and its increasing length each year) while using this name. But it’s hard to think of an alternative. The name for this festival in most European languages is either cognate with English Easter/German Ostern, or with Greek and Latin Pascha (from Hebrew פֶּסַח (Pesach) and Aramaic, פסחא (Paskha). It is unclear whether this is linguistic or theological – most Romance language countries are Roman Catholic, most Slavic language countries Orthodox and most Germanic language countries Reformed in some way. Wikipedia also records Czech Velikonoce (Great Night), Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) and Macedonian Велигден (Veligden) (Great Day), Hungarian Húsvét (Taking the meat, that is, at the end of the Lenten fast) and Finnish Pääsiäinen, “which implies ‘release’ or ‘liberation’” (the last two being non-Indo-European languages).

Of course, the Orthodox churches usually celebrate the festivals of the church’s year at different times, and the majority of the world’s population isn’t Christian at all (but those in culturally Christian countries still have to refer to this festival). So, Happy Whatever-you-celebrate (or don’t), remembering that many, many people will suffer the death of a family member or friend today.


4 thoughts on “Whatever day

    • I think that’s part of ‘familiarity’, but I didn’t mention it. The question then is: where did he get those terms from? Easter Day is in all those sources, but the BCP actually uses ‘Easter Even’.


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