The Spanish word for Easter, Pascua (usually, but not always, capitalized), is interesting for the fact that it doesn't always refer to the Christian holy day commemorating the Resurrection of Christ. As a word derived from the Hebrew pesah, it, like the English cognate "paschal," originally referred to the Jewish Passover, a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt — and still does. Over the centuries, it came to refer to various religious festival days in general, and thus can refer as well to Easter, Christmas, Epiphany (the appearance of the Magi, traditionally celebrated Jan. 6) and Pentecost (commemorating the dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit to the early Christians, a day observed seven Sundays after Easter).
Pascua can stand alone to mean any one of those days when the context makes its meaning clear. Often, however, the term Pascua judía is used to refer to the Passover, and Pascua de Resurrección to refer to Easter.
In much of the Spanish-speaking world, Easter can surpass Christmas as a time of celebration and religious observance. If you're celebrating Easter today, you may want to take a look at these two features:
- No está aquí, pues ha resucitado (the Easter story in Spanish from the Gospel of Matthew, with translation notes).
- Cristo ha resucitado (a Spanish version of the popular hymn "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today").
(Note: Opening comments below are from an earlier version of this post.)