DSC05667The word EASTER, standing for the most important Christian holiday, developed from Anglo-Saxon EASTERDAEG which, in turn,  goes back to Proto-Germanic AUSTRON (“dawn, sunrise”). However, “Easter” is used only in three Germanic languages: English, German and Icelandic. All neighboring languages use a variant of Latin “Pascha” to name the holiday.  “Eastre” was also the name of a goddess of fertility and spring whose feast was celebrated at the spring equinox.

The word combination “Easter egg” appeared in English only in 1825, “Easter rabbit” in 1888 and “Easter bunny” in 1904. That was the result of the paganish customs of Easter growing popular at the end of the 19th century. Before, such customs were limited to German immigrants. “Egg hunting”, “egg cracking” and “church clipping” came into English about this time too. Incidentally, the Easter vocabulary varies considerably from country to country and from confession to confession. For example, Orthodox Christians consider the utterance “Christ is Risen” (with the reply “He is Risen Indeed”) a required greeting on Easter days. Although the same paschal formula is known to believers in Western countries, they will sooner say “Happy Easter!”

Different cultures have their own proverbs and sayings about Easter. Some of such lexical units are humorous. The richest, in this respect, is Ukrainian: He’s such a good farmer that even his hens lay Easter eggs (Такий вдатний ґазда, що й кури крашанками несуться), or: Keep on grunting, little pig, Easter hasn’t arrived yet (Рохкай, пацю, рохкай, іще не Великдень), or: The egg is older than the hen because it’s consecrated (А яйце від курки старше, бо воно свячене), or: Help yourself to the sausage before Easter is over (Їж ковбаску, поки Паска). The same may be observed in German: Every year Easter makes life difficult for rabbits (Es ist das Osterfest alljährlich – für den Hasen recht beschwerlich).

English proverbs dealing with Easter are less casual and have a connotation of “instructive wisdom”, e.g. Easter so longed for is gone in a day. It took me some time to “decipher” the English proverb dating back to the year 1614: When Easter day lies in our Lady’s lap, then, O England, beware of a clap (other variants: ” …then England shall have a great mishap,” and “…then let the clergyman look to his cap”). In fact, the proverb is about the case when Easter (the date of which is flexible) comes close to (or, on) the day of Annunciation observed on the fixed date of March 25 (Lady Day). Apocryphally it was believed in those days that Jesus’s mother (Lady, the Blessed Virgin) would be taking revenge on people for crucifying her son when she saw the day of his death so close to her own day (Lady’s Day, or Lady Day). Consequently, all social or any other upheavals and calamities that could strike the country in that “special” year could be explained by the “unhappy” coincidence of the dates. Of course, now we understand that such an interpretation is nothing but prejudice. However, that was the case and it was registered by the language.

Once I came upon a question: what book would you take with you to read on a deserted island (along with the Bible and Shakespeare’s work)? I’d probably choose the Book of Word Histories, which is a breath-taking chronicle of human errors and achievements.


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