• Easter •
Pronunciation: ee-stêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, proper
Meaning: The Christian holiday celebrating Christ's resurrection from the dead.
Notes: You might find it strange that we celebrate Christ's resurrection with rabbits and eggs. As in so many other cases (for example, mistletoe and Santa Claus for Christmas), these symbols have non-Christian origins. Because new life emerges from eggs, they have long been a symbol of the rebirth of nature in spring after its winter-long death. The Persians, Greeks, and Romans interwove this symbol into their spring-time celebrations.
In Play: Easter existed long before Christianity as a festival of spring and fertility (see Word History). That is why Easter is not directly associated with the date of the resurrection, but the day of the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The hare (now the rabbit) and the egg appeared as symbols of fertility in the original celebrations and continue today despite their pagan heritage. We wish all our Christian friends a happy Easter and our Jewish friends a happy Passover.
Word History: Easter descended from Proto-Germanic Austron, the goddess of the sunrise, rebirth, and fertility, Eastre in Old English. The root goes back to aus- "to shine" in Proto-Indo-European, the language from which most Indian and European languages derive. Aus- appears, with the S replaced by an R, in Latin Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn. It is also at the root of German Österreich "eastern kingdom". Today it is the name of Austria in German. Most Western European languages use a variant of Hebrew Pesach "Passover" for "Easter", as in Latin Pasche, French Pâques, Spanish Pascua, Swedish Påsk, but also Russian Paskha.
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