Learn the Many Meanings of ‘Pascua’

Word originally came from Hebrew history

Easter is Valladolid, Spain
Easter Sunday is celebrated in Valladolid, Spain. Iglesia en Valladolid /Creative Commons.

The Spanish word for Easter, Pascua, which is usually capitalized, did not always refer to the Christian holy day commemorating the Resurrection of Christ. The word predates Christianity and originally refers to a holy day of the ancient Hebrews. And these days, in context, it can refer to religious holidays other than Easter, even Christmas.

In addition to holidays, the word Pascua can also be used in common Spanish idiomatic expressions, like the English expression, "once in a blue moon," translated into Spanish as, de Pascuas a Ramos

History of the Word Pascua

The word Pascua, derived from the Hebrew word pesah, and the English cognate or related word, "paschal," both refer to the Jewish Passover, a commemoration of the Israelites' liberation or Exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt more than 3,300 years ago.

Over the centuries, Pascua came to refer to various Christian festival days in general, such as Easter; Christmas; Epiphany, which was the appearance of the Magi traditionally celebrated January 6; and Pentecost, commemorating the dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit to the early Christians, a day observed seven Sundays after Easter. Whitsun, Whitsunday, or Whitsuntide is the name used in Britain, Ireland and among Anglicans throughout the world, for the Christian festival of Pentecost. In many Spanish-speaking countries, Epiphany is the day when presents are opened, rather than on Christmas.

Although the English term Easter most likely comes from Ēastre, the name given to a goddess celebrated in the spring equinox, in many other languages the term used to designate Easter, the Christian holiday, shares the derivation of the Jewish name for Passover. The origin of this is that both celebrations occur in the same period and both celebrate a rite of passage, the Jews to the Promised Land and the change from winter to spring.

Use of the Word Pascua Now

Pascua can stand alone to mean any of the Christian holy days or Passover when the context makes its meaning clear. Often, however, the term Pascua judía is used to refer to Passover and Pascua de Resurrección refers to Easter.

In plural form, Pascuas often refers to the time from Christmas to Epiphany. The phrase "en Pascua" is often used to refer to Easter time or Holy Week, known in Spanish as the Santa Semana, the eight days that begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter.

Pascua for Holidays

In some ways, Pascua is like the English word "holiday," derived from "holy day," in that the day it refers to varies with context.

Holiday Spanish Sentence or Phrase English Translation
Easter Mi esposa y yo pasamos Pascua en la casa de mis padres. My wife and I spent Easter at my parent's house.
Easter Pascua de Resurrección or Pascua florida Easter
Pentecost Pascua de Pentecostés Pentecost, Whitsun, or Whitsuntide
Christmas Pascua(s) de Navidad Christmastime
Christmas ¡Te deseamos felices Pascuas! We wish you a Merry Christmas!
Passover Mi abuelita prepara la mejor sopa de bolas de matzo para el seder de Pascua. My grandmother makes the best matzo ball soup for Passover seder.
Passover Pascua de los hebreos or Pascua de los judíos Passover

Spanish Expressions Using Pascua

The word Pascua can also be used in a few Spanish idioms or turns of phrase, which have no deducible meaning unless you know the phrase.  

Spanish Expression English Translation Literal Meaning
conejo de Pascua, conejito to Pascua Easter bunny, chocolate Easter bunny Easter rabbit or bunny
de Pascuas a Ramos once in a blue moon from Easter to Palm Sunday
estar como unas Pascuas to be as happy as a lark to be like some holidays
hacer la Pascua to bother, to annoy, to pester to do holiday
¡que se hagan la Pascua! [in Spain] they can lump it May they make Easter!
y santas Pascuas and that's that or that's the lot of it and holy Easter

The only common word related to Pascua is pascual, the adjective form. A sacrificial lamb, for example, is called a cordero pascual. In some countries of South America, a pascualina is a type of quiche.

Key Takeaways

  • Although Pascua can refer to Easter, it can refer to other religious holidays as well, such as Christmas of Epiphany.
  • Pascua is etymologically related to the English word "paschal," which refers to the Jewish Passover.
  • Pascua is also used in a variety of phrases and idioms.