What connects the 3?


As you may already know, at Languagesrachel I teach French, Spanish and English as a foreign language.

So I thought I’d blog today about Easter traditions in France, Spain and the UK.

Easter is celebrated by many people in all three countries but there are some interesting differences.

Let’s start with the name:
In the UK we say Easter
In France : Pâques
In Spain: Pascuas

Where does the word Easter come from?

It seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at the beginning of Spring. However, the only reference to this goddess comes from the writings of the Venerable Bede, a British monk who lived in the late 7th and early 8th century.

Another theory is that the English word Easter comes from an older German word for east, which comes from an even older Latin word for dawn. In spring, dawn marks the beginning of longer days so it fits with the idea of celebrating the end of winter.

So, you see Easter began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity.
Following the advent of Christianity, it became associated with the resurrection.

So the themes of rebirth, new life, resurrection explain the associations of Easter with Eggs, bunnies (high reproduction rate).
In addition, the goddess Esota’s symbol was a rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate and spring is about fertility and birth and eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility for obvious reasons.
In the Christian faith, Easter eggs represent the resurrection of Jesus.

But where does the French word Paques and the Spanish word Pascuas come from?

Let’s go back to the beginning.

In Latin and Greek the Christian celebration was and still is called Pascha a word derived from Aramaic Paskha, cognate to Hebrew Pesach. The word originally denoted the Jewish festival known in English as Passover commemorating the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt.

So this is where the French and Spanish words Pâques and Pascuas come from.

So where do the Fish fit in?

This is all about April fool’s day in France. Although, the fish is connected to Easter as it is reminiscent of the ichtus used by Christians in the Roman era.

Alongside Easter, there is a particular April fool’s day tradition in France that children enjoy. It involves attaching a paper fish to the back of as many adults as possible and then running away yelling; ‘Poisson d’avril’ or ‘April fool’

This tradition dates back to 1564 and its origin is quite obscure. Before the mid-16th Century the New Year started on the first of April. However, King Charles X of France decided to change this.
He wanted the new year to start on the first of January. To this end, he issued a royal Edict on 9th August 1564.

Legend has it that not everyone was very happy with this enforced law. I get that, people don’t like change at the best of times, and this was a massive one!
So, some people continued to celebrate the New Year in their own way on April 1st.
Those who embraced the new calander took to mocking these people.

They gave them false presents and played tricks on them. During that time the 1st of April coincided with the end of Lent, the period of time when the Church forbade Christians from eating meat. Fish, however was permitted and was often used in the offering of gifts for the New Year.
When it became more common to make jokes, people often used false fish to trick their victim.

So there you have it! Poisson d’avril is about mocking those who won’t change with the times.

And fasting?
As I touched upon, Lent is part of Christian religious observance which begins on Ash Wednesday and end approximately 6 weeks later the night before Easter Sunday. It is a time of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By celebrating the 40 days of lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the dessert for 40 days.
People refrain from eating meat or may choose to give other things up for lent.

Eg I’m giving up sugar for lent this year. ‘
Christians attend mass and pray and may set goals for themselves or to help others in need.

If you get to visit Spain during Easter time you will be amazed by the religious processions which take place throughout Holy Week La Semana Santa, the week starting on Psalm Sunday and culminating on Easter Sunday. For the most glamourous festivals head to the southern Region of Andalucia.

In France, there is a national 3-day holiday which includes Easter Monday
In the Up it’s a 4-day holiday consisting of Good Friday, Saturday, Easter Sunday and Bank holiday Monday.

Lamb is a traditional meal to be eaten as family in France and the UK.

All 3 countries also enjoy chocolate eggs. However, in France it isn’t the Easter Bunny who brings them. It is the Easter bells or cloches de Paques. These are the church bells that ring on Easter Sunday to announce the ‘rebirth’ of Christ and deliver the Easter eggs to the children as a symbol of resurrection.

In the UK its traditional to give children Chocolate eggs and hide them in the garden (weather permitting!) so the children go on an Easter egg hunt to find them.

Why Chocolate? Because it’s nice!!! I hope you all enjoy your Easter break – however you celebrate it and for whatever reasons!!!

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