I have so many friends who read several books at the same time. They have a book by the bed, a book in their desk, and a book in the car. I can’t manage that. I read one book at a time.

With one exception. I’ll often read a book of poetry on the train while I’ve got another book going at home. Right now, I’m working my way through The New Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse.

And there, in a selection from Albion’s England, a long narrative by William Warner, I saw it:

At Yule we wonten gambol, dance, to carol and to sing,
To have good spiced stew, and roast, and plum-pie for a king.
At Fast’s-eve pan-puffs; Gang-tide gaits did aley masses bring.
At Paske begun our morris, and ere Pentecost our May.

Pascha in the Sixteenth Century

At Paske begun our morris. Paske! There it is, in a mid-sixteenth century poem, in a passage describing the festivities that surrounded the sacred holidays.

I learned, some while back, that English-speaking people used Pascha as often as Easter as the name for the Feast of the Resurrection. But even knowing that, I was surprised and delighted to encounter Paske in the poem.

Exploring Pascha in the OED

I decided to see where else I could find references to Pascha in English writings. I turned, naturally, to the Oxford English Dictionary. It is the supreme reference to the history of words in English, and the joy of word nerds everywhere.

If you go back to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, written in the early 1100s, you can read in the entry for one year that King Henry went to Winchester for Easter and in another year that he went to Northampton for Pascha. The two terms are used interchangeably, even in the same work.

In the 19th century, Washington Irving also used the two words interchangeably. In his History of New York (written under the pseudonym Dietrich Knickerbocker), he mentioned the “great cracking of eggs at Paas or Easter.”

Of course, it’s no surprise to anyone to see the great Feast called Easter. But it’s a bit of a surprise to read, in the fourteenth century history of Richard the Lionheart, that Richard’s “brother Ihon, Wolde do Corowne hym anon, At the Pask.” Or to read in Brunne’s Story of England that Uther held Pasches at London.

And speaking of Uther, somewhere around 1450, in Merlin or the early history of king Arthur, you read, “Syr, we pray yow that the swerde be suffred yet in the ston to Passh.”

I’ve undoubtedly seen variations on Pascha many times during my readings. I’m not sure why I haven’t noticed it before.

But I’ll notice them now. I hope you will, too.

If you encounter the word Pascha (or Pask or Pace or any other variation) in any of your readings, let me know! I’d love to have a list of references beyond what’s in the OED.

Read More

How Easter Got Its Name: It wasn’t named for a pagan goddess, in spite of what Bede thought.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion: In 1609, the Annunciation and Holy Friday fell on the same day.

Celebrating Pascha: The Queen and Lady of Days: The great celebration of Pascha stands alone, outside any list, and outside of time itself.

Charlotte Riggle, author of Catherine's Pascha and The Saint Nicholas Day Snow
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