Resurrection Day

Last year I posted about my firm belief that yesterday and today are Easter Eve and Easter Day respectively. I drafted most of the following post, then actually re-read last year’s post and found that I said most of this in last year’s post. But I’ll post this anyway.

I have long pondered the use in English of the pagan-derived Easter instead of anything actually Christian. After researching this, I found that this is an issue in only two languages: English, which uses Easter, and German, which uses Ostern. Even the closely related Dutch and Danish use Pasen and påske respectively. These, as well as the equivalent words in most other European languages, are derived from New Testament Greek Πάσχα pascha, Aramaic, פסחא paskha and Hebrew פֶּסַח pesaḥ (most often transliterated as pesach), or passover. But using pascha, pesach or passover is going to cause more problems that it solves.

English-speaking Christians in particular can’t complain that Easter has become a secular, commercial food-and-drink-fest when we deliberately and habitually call it by the name of a pagan fertility goddess. I was flipping through a 172-page supermarket magazine and saw one full-page ad headed Celebrate Easter. It doesn’t mention Jesus’s resurrection; it was for a cheese company and featured an undoubtedly sumptuous cheese, fruit and chocolate platter. 

A few European languages unrelated words: Wikipedia lists (Indo-European Slavic) Czech Veliknoce (Great Night), Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) and Macedonian Велигден Veligden (Great Day) and (non-Indo-European Hungarian, húsvét (taking the meat, that is, the end of the Lenten fast) and Finnish language Pääsiäinen, “which implies ‘release’ or ‘liberation’”.

If I can trust Google Translate, many non-European languages use either a transliteration of Easter (Japanese  イースター Īsutā), pascha (Amharic ፋሲካ fasīka (I presume directly, given the long history of Christianity in Ethiopia) and (?) Malagasy Paka (I presume borrowed from French, given the colonial history and prevalence of Christianity there)) or their own words for resurrection  + day (Chinese  復活節 (trad) 复活节 (simp) fùhuó jié and Korean 부활절 buhwaljeol (I assume that Korean borrowed the word from Chinese in the same way that English takes most of its specialised vocabulary from Latin and Greek)). There are also a number of languages where the meaning is not immediately discernible. They are possibly related to resurrection.

I asked my wife if 부활 is used only in the religious sense and she said yes. I then said that in English resurrection is sometimes used about an actor or singer who was very popular, then not popular, then is beginning to be popular again, and she said that it’s used like that, too.

[PS A niece who is an English-speaking member of an Orthodox church and second-language speaker of Scottish Gaelic linked to a Twitter thread of speakers of various Great British languages or varieties discussing various words and phrases they use based on Pasch, Pascha or Pace, so it does happen. Wikipedia mentions the Pace egg play, and see also the Egg dance. The Pace eggs found in Sydney supermarkets are named after the (?Maltese) family-run company which produces them.]

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6 thoughts on “Resurrection Day

    • The main difference is that the church in England adopted the name Easter very early, whereas it didn’t and doesn’t even use the word ‘Yule’ (or at least very rarely – I can think of winter carols which use the word eg Deck the hall(s) but not Christmas carols). The church in England isn’t going to call Christmas ‘Yule’ *now.

      In Australia, Christmas is at the height of summer, which means all the winter imagery is meaningless to me (it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else). Anything called ‘Yulefest’ in Australia is more likely to be in June or July (sometimes called ‘Christmas in July’, which I don’t like, but given that we don’t know when Jesus was born may actually be the right time).

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  1. I wouldn’t expect to see anything about Jesus’ resurrection in a supermarket flyer. At least in America, it would fly[1] in the face of our tradition of not respecting establishments of religion, and would inevitably offend the non-Christians in the customer base.

    Similarly, you’ll (Yule?) see Santa Claus, elves and reindeer in Christmastime ads, but few if any haloed babies in mangers or even wise men on camels.

    Even President’s Day (a combination of the former Washington and Lincoln birthday celebrations) is known above all for car advertisements and little else. And that’s not even a religious holiday.

    [1] For that’s what flyers do, isn’t it?

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    • Some at least shopping centres and department stores have a manger scene somewhere. I can more easily image a manger scene in a supermarket magazine in Dec (though I can’t say I’ve ever seen one) than I can a cross or tomb in one in Apr.

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