Interesting vocabulary and facts about Easter

Miriam Herud

Easter's coming and I think I speak for all of us when I say we can't wait to enjoy those couple of days we don’t have to work (at least the lucky ones) and spend the time with our close ones at home or take a short getaway to blow off some steam.

Well, here’s the deal. Obviously, there are a few special words and expressions related to Easter, its customs and traditions. And while some of them are, translation-wise, identical in English and Slovak, the others may differ a bit. That’s why we’re gonna take a brief look at the names of particular Easter days, as well as the most typical Slovak traditions.

Let’s kick off with the day it all starts with – Ash Wednesday (Popolcová streda). People go to church and come home with a cross marked from ash on their forehead. This is the day when a period of approx six weeks, or 40 days, of fasting (to fast=postiť sa) starts which is called Lent (Pôst). If you ask why “lent”, it has nothing to do with lentils 🙂 The word comes from Old English “lengten” (modern English “lengthen”=Slovak predĺžiť, predlžovať sa) since the days in spring get longer. And of course, the 40-day fasting is just for the tenacious individuals, but really, you’re not supposed to eat meat, or to be accurate, Christians traditionally choose not to eat meat, just on this particular day and then when the actual Easter begins. The day that comes before Ash Wednesday is also worth mentioning, which is Shrove Tuesday (Fašiangový utorok). Again, the word “shrove” comes from Old English “scrifan” (modern English “shrive”, i.e. to hear and forgive someone’s sins=Slovak vyspovedať). That’s when fašiangy and all the carnival season ends.

Why don’t we fast-forward to the Sunday before Easter. Its name is Palm Sunday (Kvetná nedeľa). The reason behind the name is connected with Jesus’ joyous arrival in Jerusalem where people awaiting him scattered palm branches in his path to honor him.

And the next important day to come is the Thursday that lots of Slovaks erroneously like to call *Green* Thursday as the Slovak name for it is Zelený štvrtok. However, that’s wrong. The name is Maundy Thursday. People get even more confused after they hear the word “maundy”. They ask: “Maundy? Is it, like, coming from Monday or what?” No, it’s not. The origin of the word is Latin, particularly the word “mandatum”, and if you’re familiar with the English word “mandatory” (povinný), you may’ve guessed it means “command” (prikázať, príkaz). It commemorates the day of Jesus’ last supper (posledná večera) when Jesus commanded his disciples and followers to maintain this practice.

The English names of the following two days also differ from the Slovak versions. There’s Good Friday – Slovak Veľký piatok (a bizarre name for the day Jesus was crucified, right? However, the word “good” should not be construed as „nice, pleasant or enjoyable“ – it rather refers to a day that is perceived as “holy” by the church) and Holy Saturday – Slovak Biela sobota. On Holy Saturday dead Jesus was lying in the tomb until his resurrection which is celebrated on Easter Sunday (identical with Slovak Veľkonočná nedeľa). Easter Monday (Veľkonočný pondelok) is a national holiday in Slovakia and in some towns and villages people still keep up the traditions that have survived for centuries. Besides decorating houses with golden yellow forsythia (zlatý dážď) and furry pussy willow (bahniatka), guys fill buckets with water and braid whips (korbáče) from tree branches. Then they visit girls they know to splash and whip them. But don’t be mistaken – these are no sadistic customs; it’s done symbolically so that the girls would be healthy and pretty all year round. In return, they reward the guys with decorated Easter eggs and a shot of spirits or two 😉