Every Easter it seems social media feeds are full of misinformation about the origin of the Christian holiday. Some people make absurd claims about Easter coming from the ancient Semitic goddess Ishtar which is totally unsubstantiated etymologically. The truth is far more interesting.
The word Easter actually comes from an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess called Eostre recorded by a Northumbrian monk called the venerable Bede in the 8th century. The Old English ēastre is a word of Germanic origin which is cognate with the German Ostern and modern English East.
Pagans like the one who made the video below still worship the goddess Ēostre .
Ēostre was also worshipped in Germany where she is known as Ostara. So this Old English goddess Ēostre has preserved her name in modern English as Easter and in Germany as Ostern – which is a Christian holiday concerning the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This makes sense when you consider that just as Christ was reborn, so too is the sun each day at dawn and that Ēostre derives from Proto-Germanic *austrōn meaning ‘dawn’, which is itself a descendent of the Proto-Indo-European root *aus-, meaning ‘to shine’
The modern English word East also derives from the PIE root aus which makes sense when you consider that the sun rises in the East. Obviously a goddess of dawn would be associated with the East.
You may have noticed how austrōn and aus sound a bit like Austria. Well the German name for Austria is Österreich which can be translated into English as the “eastern realm”, which is derived from Old German Ostarrîchi. The name was Latinized as “Austria” and coincidentally resembles the more ancient PIE root in this Latinized form.
But while Some Germanic language speaking countries like England and Germany use a word with PIE roots and pagan connotations for the Christian holiday, the following countries use a term derived from a Semitic root.
Belgium: ‘Paosje’ (also ‘Poaschn’ and ‘Påke’);
Russia: ‘Paskha’ (Пасха);
Greece: ‘Paskha’ (Πάσχα)
Ireland: ‘Cáisc’ (or ‘Casc’ in Old Irish).
They all come from Latin paschalis, from pascha which describes the Jewish holiday “Passover” as does the Greek pascha “Passover,” from Aramaic pasha “pass over,” corresponding to Hebrew pesah, from pasah “he passed over.”
In fact a word with this Semitic root was also used in England in conjunction with the word Easter – Middle English Pasche was frequently used to refer to Easter in medieval England. There is an English folk tradition called “pace egg plays” in which mummers in folk dress perform Christian morality plays in public spaces. There is an associated folk song called “the pace egging song” which is kind of like an Easter equivalent of a Xmas carol where the singers request food and drink from whoever listens. The word Pace comes from the old English word ‘pasch‘ meaning Easter which is obviously from the aforementioned Semitic root.