The Christian holiday of Easter and the pagan holiday of Ostara typically fall very near to each other. (This year, they’re just over a week apart.) Both draw their names from the Teutonic goddess of the spring and the dawn, Oestre, or Eastre. And, boy, does spring really kick off from here.
The pagan festival of Ostara marks the Spring Equinox - the time exactly mid-way between the Winter and Summer Solstices. It is a time of balance. Night and day are of the same length today but, from here on out, the days will be getting longer. Summer's on the way, baby!
The Spring Equinox - or Vernal Equinox - normally falls on or around the 21st of March. This year (2013), it occurs on the 20th. They say that, at the exact moment of the equinox - and just a few moments before and after - you can balance an egg upright. I've never tried this...Have you? No, seriously... I'd love to know if it actually works!
Common decorations, for both Pagans and Christians alike, are painted eggs, rabbits and baskets of fresh flowers. You may wonder what exactly those chocolate eggs and bunnies that little boys and girls embrace have to do with Christianity and the rebirth of Jesus Christ… Well, to be perfectly frank... Not one damned thing. Like so many other traditions readily accepted by the Christian faith, the roots of these symbols lie in the Pagan traditions of yore.
The egg is the most recognizable symbol of this holiday. It represents fertility - in both plants and animals (and us, of course!) The Earth has shed her winter cloak and is starting Her return to abundance. The trees are starting to grow tiny leaves, the smell of fresh grass fills the air and early spring flowers like daffodils are poking out of the newly softened ground.
It is easy to see why bunnies are associated with this festival of fertility. You only have to think of the commonly used phrase, “shag like a bunny" to see why. I don't think I can go any deeper into this particular symbol without drawing a diagram. *wink, wink* Another tradition that both Easter and Ostara share is a lovely dinner of ham. This tradition can also be traced back to the ancient Pagans. How so, you ask?
Well… during the hard winter months, they would be forced to make due with the dried, cured meats (like ham) that they prepared in the Autumn. When Spring arrived, they could start to take advantage of the fresh produce of the season. The last of the cured meats would be finished off and the hard-working farmers could start to look forward to a few months of abundance.
The purchasing (or making!) of new clothes at Ostara/Easter time is a tradition I'd never really noticed. I saw it mentioned on a website a few weeks ago, however, and decided to put some thought into it. I guess it's one of those things you notice less once you're grown up because Mamaw and Papaw don't show up with new jumpers for you on Easter morning anymore. But I was walking through ASDA (yes, I'm an ASDA whore) just yesterday and I couldn't help but notice the new clothing lines. And such vibrant colours!
Well, it makes sense, doesn't it? The Earth gets new clothes... She gets new skirts of lush green and yellow fields, new jackets of brilliant blossoms and crowns of new foliage. It's all about shaking off the dark mantle of winter – for Her and us!
For me, Ostara is a holiday of gentle wonder. Walking through my village at this time, I can't help but stop and breathe deeply, taking in the smell of recently tilled soil, the sight of budding flowers, the warmth of the sun on my cheeks, and the tinkle of children's laughter as they play in their front yards. I marvel at the way the Earth can spring back to life after so many months of harsh wind and rain (winter in South Wales equals wind and rain.) And we, Her children, mirror Her rebirth.
The Christian holiday of Easter celebrates the rebirth of Christ, echoing the rebirth and rejuvenation of the Earth at Spring. Not so far from we celebrate, is it? I grow through a kind of rebirth myself at this time. A desire to make things, to make the most of myself, to create, to love, to LIVE hits me about this time and positively hums in my veins during the spring months. And it all starts here, now, with this so-called Christian holiday chock full of Pagan traditions. With Ostara.