Easter etymology

Today’s lesson: learning the history of the word Easter and the names of its traditions


Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), it’s likely you know the biblical story behind the Easter celebration. Jesus. Judas. Kisses. Pontius. Blood. Capital punishment. Death. Resurrection. That story. But do you know the history of the word Easter and the names of Easter traditions? That’s what we’ll learn in today’s post.

Easter etymology
Easter had quite a long journey before it looked like it does now. If you were around when we were still speaking Old English, Easter would have been Aestor, Aestur, Aeuster, Eastor, Eastra, Eastro, Eastur, Eostor, Eostro, Eostru, Eostur, Estur, Euster, and/or Eustur. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary Online) And if you were speaking Middle English, it would have been Aster, Astere, Astur, Astyr, Eester, Eestir, Estir, Estre, Eystere, Hester, Hestur, Hyster, Yestre, Ystyre, Estur, Estyr, Astr, Eister, Aister, Aisther, and/or Haster. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary Online)

Whew. This sure makes me glad people decided to start spelling English words the same way. (Well, minus the subject of British versus American spellings.)

Fun fact: Nearly all neighboring languages use a variant of the Latin word Pasche instead of Easter, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Easter’s other meaning
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Easter has another meaning, which is: “the action or act of receiving the Holy Eucharist during the season of Easter, as required of members of the Roman Catholic Church.” In this sense, Easter is usually used with the verb “to make,” as in “to make one’s Easter.”

baskets and bunnies
In the United States, we have the Easter bunny—that magical little furry creature that delivers candy and eggs to children, who then turn around and eat chocolate reproductions of that very animal. (Pretty cruel, if you think about it.) The Oxford English Dictionary Online cites the first printed reference to the Easter bunny as being in 1900 in The Frederick News in Frederick, Maryland.

But before the bunny, there was the hare. The Easter hare, to be exact. Or in Germany, where the hare makes its most visits, the Osterhase. The website germanoriginality.com says that the hare started being used as a symbol for Easter in the sixteenth century, with the first bunny-shaped pastries arriving a century later. Yum.

If you’re lucky, the Easter bunny, or Osterhase, will leave you treats that you can collect in your Easter basket. According to the OED, the first written reference of the Easter basket in the United States came from the city of Philadelphia in 1881.

One thought on “Easter etymology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s