As Easter fast approaches, American students’ joy can be felt with the upcoming Spring Break vac. Working at an American university in Spain means I’m constantly made aware of the differences between these two countries, not only in terms of Easter traditions such as giving certain luxurious things up during Lent (common practice in North America but not in Spain) and the procesiones (common sight in northwestern and southern Spain and some Latin American countries but not in the US), but there are a number of linguistic differences as well.
So today, let’s look at the Spanish phrase:
As we all know, Pascua is Easter in Spanish. So surely, ‘felices Pascuas’ means ‘happy Easter’, right? Wrong! It actually means Merry Christmas.
Why the discrepancy, you ask? It’s actually not, because in Spanish, the Nativity of Jesus is not only referred to as Navidad (Noël or Christmas), but also as la(s) Pascua(s) de Navidad (the holiday period spanning from Christmas to Epiphany; in Spanish, it’s commonly called las Navidades in the plural due to its being a prolonged period, same reason why holiday–las vacaciones–is always in the plural). In fact, there are several Pascuas in Spain and other traditionally Catholic countries:
- Pascua(s) de Navidad: Noël, Christmas, Nativity of Jesus, Christmastide — 25th December (Gregorian calendar)
- Pascua de Pentecostés, Pascua del Espíritu Santo: Pentecost, Whit, Whit Sunday, White Sunday, Whitsun, Whitsuntide — 49 days after Easter Sunday
- Pascua de Resurrección, Pascua Florida, or Pascua de Flores: Easter
All these Pascuas, of course, have their origins in the Hebrew Passover, which, incidentally, is also called Pascua in Spanish–Pascua de los hebreos (Hebrew Pascua) or Pascua de los judíos (Jewish Pascua). Confused enough?
The reason why they’re all named Pascuas is because this Spanish word, as well as the related English term–paschal (as in, the Paschal Lamb), are derived from the vulgar Latin pascŭa which in turn came from Latin pascha, this, coming from Ancient Greek πάσχα páscha, and this ultimately came from the Hebrew פֶּסַח pesaḥ (Passover), influenced by the Latin pascuum (pasture), alluding to the end of fasting. Therefore, these different Christian events are all termed Pascua in Spanish for their religious significance.
So, now that we’ve established the fact that ‘felices Pascuas’ means ‘Merry Christmas’, what do Spaniards say when they want to wish each other ‘happy Easter’? The answer is… nothing. Easter is a solemn occasion for Catholics and Christians of other denominations alike to repent and reflect on the biblical accounts on the sacrifice of Christ as well as his Resurrection. Even though Spain nowadays does not have as many practising Christians as it did in the past, it seems the tradition is maintained subconsciously by the society. Of course, a secular ‘que os lo paséis bien en Semana Santa’ or something along the lines may be heard.
Curiously, in the closely related Portuguese, ‘boa Páscoa’ or ‘feliz Páscoa’ does mean ‘happy Easter’ and not ‘Merry Christmas’. Granted, it’s not said often for the same reason–it’s not a period of joy but of temperance and solemnity–so the expression, if used at all, is reserved for departures, perhaps prior to a trip to their hometown during this holiday period.
In regions that have an Eastern Christian majority–countries and peoples that are traditionally associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Eastern Catholic Churches–the faithful would greet each other in the following sentences during Easter, known as the…
Person A: Christ is Risen!
Person B: Truly, He is Risen.
Examples of the Paschal greeting in different languages:
Христос възкресе! (Hristos vyzkrese!)
Воистина възкресе! (Voistina vyzkrese!)
ქრისტე აღსდგა! (Kriste agsdga!)
ჭეშმარიტად აღსდგა! (Cheshmaritad agsdga!)
Χριστὸς ἀνέστη! (Khristós Anésti!)
Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! (Alithós Anésti!)
Hristos a înviat!
Cu adevărat a înviat!
Христос воскрес! (Christos voskres!)
Воистину воскрес! (Voistinu voskres!)
Христос васкрсе! (Hristos vaskrse!)
Ваистину васкрсе! (Vaistinu vaskrse!)
Old Church Slavonic:
Христóсъ воскрéсе! (Christos voskrese!)
Воистину воскресе! (Voistinu voskrese!)