Ostara's history, observances and ties to Easter
William Browning – Wed Mar 16, 1:10 pm ET
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Ostara, a pagan holiday surrounding the move from winter into spring, is celebrated by pagans on the spring equinox each year. Ostara is an homage to a Norse goddess whose symbols include the egg and the hare. Here's a look at the history and observances of Ostara, the word from which the Anglo-Saxons derived Easter.
History of Ostara
Witchvox.com states the holiday Ostara is traced back to the Norse goddess of the same name. Her festival day occurs on the vernal equinox in late March. Called "Oestre" or "Eastre" in Anglo-Saxon languages, her name is also the derivative of the word "east" where the sun rises. Therefore, Ostara celebrates many things including the new season, warmer weather and brighter days with more sunlight.
Eventually, the name of Ostara go transferred to Easter which became the spring holiday Christians observe the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. When two religions were competing for attention, it helped to have holidays near the same date on the calendar to win followers.
Eggs and rabbits are associated with the Norse goddess herself. According to Religious Tolerance, other pagan religions in Greece and Rome also had spring festivals. The term Easter stuck with Christian churches throughout France and England when they had contact with Norse people such as Vikings.
When spring happens, normal life returns and everyone frolics outdoors. Hence, finding eggs outside is a tradition of getting up and active to explore your surroundings at the dawn of a new season. Animals come out of hibernation and start to eat.
Eating and having a feast on the first day of spring is a natural thing for humans. When food was scarce in the winter, often poor farmers ate less to conserve their food supply. When spring came, it was time to celebrate because now food could be grown.
Feasts with fresh meat such as ham and greens grown in the spring are relevant to having a feast on Ostara. Asparagus and dandelion greens are popular customs but it is important to partake of fresh food to symbolize the new season. Green leafy vegetables welcome the new season with simple foods apropos to the season.
Fertility is a prominent theme of Ostara. Spring in when animals come out of their winter slumber and mate. The Christian Feast of the Annunciation is also around the time of the vernal equinox so it reinforces the idea that spring is a time for child bearing and children.
The festival of Ostara happens as early as March 19 or as late as March 23 as the date of the vernal equinox changes from year to year. No matter what religion you follow, chances are there is some celebration of the new season each year revolving around spring. Many customs in the United States regarding finding eggs and eating chocolate bunnies can be traced to Ostara, the Norse goddess of fertility.
William Browning is a research librarian.