Easter Holiday Origins – Geek of Faith Follow-up

I wrote my Easter Holiday articles several years ago with the intention of debunking the worst of the stupid myths around the holiday. I read through them recently and didn’t see anything that stood out as incorrect after several years of being fascinated with the subject.

I do have a speculation on the word ‘Easter’ and why the Germans call it “Ostern”. I don’t have any evidence of this and I might not even be the first to speculate this. Best case scenario I’ve come to this conclusion through sheer force of thought, and there are a bunch of history papers out there from the 1700’s onward confirming this. Much like how Edgar Allen Poe came up with the Big Bang Theory through intuition.

According to Bede, the English used to call one of the months “Eosturmonath” or “Eostre’s Month” after a goddess of the same name. I’d guess this month is now called “April” as Bede tied it into the paschal season. This means that the English were calling that time of year “Easter” since before Christianity arrived on those islands in probably the third century or so. My guess is they just called Passover after what they called the month it typically fell in and the name stuck. Perhaps there was a festival around the same time that Passover replaced as well.

What is interesting is that while a lot of the British isles had been converted to Christianity by Bede’s time in the 700’s, most of Germany had not been converted, or needed ‘re-converting’ due to various conquests. The English Saint Boniface and his sainted niece and nephews started missionary work in Germany sometime around the mid-700’s. His niece, Saint Walpurga, is especially notable as being the first female author in both England and Germany.

I speculate that Boniface, Walpurga, Willibald, Winibald, and other English missionaries had been using the term “Easter” as they would have in England as opposed to the Latin “Pascha” in their dealings with the Germans. Their converts likely used the term as they had no other name for a holiday they just started celebrating.

The only evidence I have for this is that the German word “Ostern” does seem to come from the English “Eostre” rather than the other way around as one would expect. Also Bede wrote his book some time before Boniface went to Germany. Which means the word was probably in common usage well before then.

The point is I don’t think we English speakers call it Easter because we speak a Germanic language and that’s what the Germans call it. I think the Germans call it “Ostern” because a bunch of English and English-adjacent missionaries called it “Easter” about thirteen hundred years ago when they were evangelizing. Places like Austria and the Netherlands were probably evangelized, or more heavily influenced, by people who weren’t from the British Isles, and their name for the holiday is the same as everyone else’s: “Pascha”.

Leave a comment