Easter words explained – Why is Easter actually called Easter? – Radio SRF 1

By | April 14, 2022

Good Friday is lamentation, Easter is dawn. Enlightening on a few Easter words.

It is unclear why Easter means “Easter”. One theory is that during the Christianization of the Germanic peoples in the early Middle Ages, the Christian Easter festival replaced a pre-Christian Germanic spring festival in honor of a goddess of the dawn.

cross on a lake.


The word Easter is probably based on the Indo-European word root “*hausos” with the meaning of dawn.

Keystone / Christian Baeck

Another theory is that Jesus’ empty tomb was discovered at dawn in the morning. That’s why Easter – the feast of Jesus’ resurrection – was named after the dawn. And according to a third theory, early Christians were often baptized at sunrise on Easter morning, and this led to the name Easter.

Either way, the word Easter is probably based on the Indo-European word root «*hausos» with the meaning of dawn. And from the same word root “*hausos” came the word east for the cardinal direction. Logical: The rising sun – the reason for the dawn – is always in the east.

Where does the “kar” in Good Friday come from?

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On Good Friday the death of Jesus is mourned.


Before the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated at Easter (and the end of Lent), Holy Week comes. During this week – especially on Good Friday – the death of Jesus is mourned. The word “kar” also means lamentation or mourning.

The English word “care” for concern and care has the same origin. From mourning and lamentation, the meaning of “care” first expanded to concern and finally to nursing – after all, caring and nurturing are closely related.

“Pâques” and “Pasqua” come from the Hebrew

The English «easter» has the same origin as the German Easter. Interestingly, the other Germanic languages ​​such as Dutch, Swedish or Icelandic have different words for Easter: «Pasen», «påsk», «páskar».

The similarity to French «pâques» or Italian «pasqua» cannot be overlooked. All of these Easter names go back to the Jewish Passover festival. In Judaism, Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Since, according to tradition, Jesus’ resurrection took place during the Passover festival, the Christian Easter festival is closely linked to the Jewish Passover. That is why its Hebrew name was also adopted. The word came into Greek via the Aramaic “pas-cha” – the language of many early Christians.

From the Greek into the wide world

With the spread of Christianity, the word «pas-cha» (Latin «pasca») also spread into many languages, including all Romance languages ​​such as French, Italian or Romansh.

Also Albanian («pashkët»), Russian («Пасха», pron Pas-cha) and Turkish («Paskalya») have an Easter word that goes back to the Passover festival.

Hungarian is about eating meat

Easter is a big day in many Slavic languages ​​(e.g. Ukrainian «Великдень», pron well-being) or big night (e.g. Polish «Wielkanoc»). The adjective big comes from the fact that Easter is the most important festival in Christianity.

The Serbo-Croatian Easter word «Uskrs» and the Georgian «აღდგომა», say: aghdgoma) mean translated resurrection.

In Hungarian («húsvét») and Estonian («lihavõte») it refers to the end of Lent at Easter. Both Easter words mean “eat meat”.

Chocolate at Easter

Not only meat is eaten at Easter, but also lots of chocolate in the form of eggs and rabbits. Dialect expert André Perler explains in the video why people say “dr Schoggi” in their own dialects and “d Schoggi” in others.

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