Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ostara:The Holiday in the Holiday

As part of my April A-Z blog challenge on all things mystical, here's the letter O...

Ostara is one of eight pagan holidays throughout the year, celebrated at the time of the Vernal Equinox--typically late March or April in the Northern Hemisphere. It is named after the spring Goddess Eostre, or Eostar. Her symbols are the egg and the rabbit. She is often depicted with a rabbit at her side. Colors are pastels, typically light greens and yellows.

Sound familiar?

Ostara is a time to reflect on life's balance, as the Vernal Equinox balances equal parts of day and night. It is a time to celebrate spring and new birth. Gathering wildflowers and planting seeds is a common tradition at this time. Honey, cakes, soup, ham, eggs, and marzipan are common foods. Some use dandelions that pop up at this time to greet the spring in salads or lightly sauteed. Nasturtiums and other early spring edibles are seen, too, as is dandelion or nettle wine. Egg decorating, egg hunts, and egg and spoon races and among festivities.

One trick that can be attempted to demonstrate the perfect balance of the equinox is to take an egg (uncooked) outdoors and find a fairly even surface. Just before the actual time of the equinox itself (consult an almanac for information), set the larger end of the egg on the ground. It is said that the egg will balance itself upright just for the few moments before and after the equinox.

This festival was one of the prime spring celebrations among Germanic tribes before Anglo-Saxon/German heathen conversion to Christianity. Many of the traditions of the pagan holiday were kept while merging beliefs into the holy Christian remembrance of Christ's resurrection, including the name "Easter" after the heathen goddes for which the celebration was named. Since the holiday reflected rebirth and renewal, this made for a natural tie-in with the resurrection of the Christian Lord. A slight change was made so that Easter would occur on a Sabbath--Ostara is celebrated at the actual time of the Equinox, whereas it was decided Easter should take place on the first Sunday following it.

Many find it surprising that some of the holidays they celebrate did not necessarily originate with the founding of their beliefs, but were adapted from older practices. Ostara is not the only such tradition, and later in this series I will be disussing some others worth mention.