Christians and Jews both spent this past weekend celebrating major events: Easter for the Christians and Passover for the Jews. While the two holidays commemorate different religious events, they originally were exactly the same etymologically.
Passover derives from the Hebrew word Pesach, which is generally taken to refer to God’s having passed over the Hebrew people to exempt them from the slaughter of the firstborn recounted in the Book of Exodus. It now commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The word Passover first appeared in English in William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible in the 1530s.
There is some debate about whether Pesach should be translated as “pass over.” Some scholars think it means “he had pity” and others prefer the translation “he hovered over, guarding.”
In any event, when Christians began to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which occurred during the period when Passover was celebrated, they used the same term to designate it. In the Romance languages today, Passover and Easter are in fact the same word, derived from Pesach via Latin paschalis: Pasqua in Italian, Pascua in Spanish, and Pâque (Passover) and Pâques (Easter) in French. (The extra “s” for Easter was added by the French sometime after the fifteenth century to distinguish the two holidays.) In Middle English Easter was sometimes referred to as Pasch, and in modern English the word Paschal can also be used to allude to the Easter period.
The word Easter (and, in German, Ostern) is related to the German word for east, and according to the Venerable Bede it derived from the Old English Ēostre, the Germanic goddess of spring and fertility, who was associated with the dawn. She was worshipped by pagan Anglo-Saxons, and when they were Christianized, they kept the same name for the new festival, which also occurred in the spring.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou celebrates the season by reciting a verse written especially for the occasion, despite being implored not to by leaders of every major religion and several minor ones.
There once was was a gluttonous feaster,
Who gorged himself every Easter
On boiled colored eggs
And Chardonnay dregs,
Till he keeled over flat on his keister.