Central Europe is a Melting Pot for Easter Names

Perhaps nothing illustrates the diversity of Central Europe better than the richness of its languages. The perfect example is the way the region's countries approach naming the Easter holiday. The diversity is quite telling.

map of easter in European languages
The word for "Easter" varies in meaning across the continent of Europe. Creator of the map: Jakub Marian https://jakubmarian.com/easter-in-european-languages-map/

From the map here, together with the underlying etymology, there are three essential origins of the name given to the Easter holiday (*Hungary, as usual when it comes to language, being the exception).

The first is connected to the western continental countries, such as France, Spain, and Italy – particularly in the case of Romania. The Romanian word for Easter, “Paști,” is derived from Latin and has its roots in the Hebrew word “Pesach,” aka Passover. The Jewish feast of Passover commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. As such, it can be considered an allusion to Christ’s sacrifice, delivery from the slavery of sin.

Some Central European countries, especially to the south of the region, use a directly descriptive logic. Similar to the Russian word of “Voskresenie Christovo,” literally the Resurrection of Christ, it’s called “Uskrs” or “Vaskrs” in former Yugoslavian countries.

To the north, the tendency is to pay special attention to the importance of the feast. Polish “Wielkanoc,” Czech “Velikonoce,” and Slovakian “Velká Noc” – all mean “the Good Night,” or, more precisely, “The Great Night.” This Slavic name extends to the south with Slovenian “Velika noč” and to the North with Lithuanian “Velykos,” – which simply translates to “Great.” (As a side note, all of the origins mentioned above converge in Ukraine, where Easter can be “Velykden” (meaning “the Great Day”), “Paskha,” or “Voskresenie”).

The other languages follow the same rules, but with their own words instead, which are more Baltic than Slavic. Estonia’s “Ülestõusmispühad” is a “Feast of the Resurrection” (so, Voskresenie-style), whereas Latvian “Lieldienas” is “the Good Day,” following the logic of Slavic countries.

And then there’s Hungary, with linguistic origins that are entirely unique: húsvét is just a meat-eating time! So as the word “carnival” originates (according to one hypothesis) in Latin for “farewell to the meat,” Hungarians oppose this pessimistic view, choosing instead to bid meat a warm welcome after forty days of fasting.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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