Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celebrating the seasonal holiday of Ostara / Happy Vernal Equinox!

The winter of 2010/2011 will be remembered as one of the more icy, snowy, brutal winters that we have experienced here in the northeast in the last several years.  While I generally DO like to experience each of the seasons as the wheel of the year turns, I know that I am not alone when I say that this past winter certainly stretched my patience.  As I type this, I am listening to the muted chirp of the returning birds through my closed windows.  Believe it or not, it was 70+ degrees just a few days ago, and tonight we are expecting an 'icy/wintry' mix. 

So in the spirit of looking forward to Spring, and to celebrate the brave daffodils, hyacinths and tulips that have poked their heads above ground in my yard in an overt challenge to bid winter adieu, I wanted to share the roots of this seasonal earth holiday.

The name Vernal Equinox celebrates the point in the earth's rotation when the daytime and nighttime are of equal length.  Vernal meaning 'spring' and equinox meaning 'equal night'.  Since the Winter Solstice in December, daylight has been increasing by mere minutes a day until today, when the day and night are equal.  The Equinox occurs twice a year exactly six months apart.  In the Fall, it is called Autumnal Equinox representing again when the daytime and nighttime are of equal length - only this time it is because the daylight has been diminishing by mere minutes a day since the Summer Solstice in June.

The Vernal Equinox generally occurs on or around March 20/21 when the sun is directly over the equator.  For thousands of years, indigenous populations, clans and tribal peoples and even religions have marked the beginning of spring with rituals celebrating the return of warmth, sunshine and new life.

One ancient holiday associated with the Vernal Equinox is Ostara, which is a traditional celebration honoring the Saxon lunar goddess, Eostre.  Different tribal traditions tell the story slightly differently, but the underlying thread is still the same:  Eostre once rescued a wounded bird, whose feathers and wings had become totally frozen by the harsh cold of winter.  Eostre changed her into a hare, enabling her to survive the winter more easily.

In keeping with her avian origins, the transformed creature was still able to lay eggs ~ and she expressed her unyielding gratitude to Eostre by decorating those eggs and giving them as a genuine gift from her heart.  Is this starting to sound vaguely familiar?  Good.  It should.  Missionaries adapted and incorporated these rituals of Ostara into the traditions of their Easter celebrations thereby hoping to convert pagans to Christianity.  (Hmmm:  Ostara = Eostre = Easter - similar spelling 'coincidences'?)

Whatever your "Spring" holiday traditions, rituals, celebrations and/or spiritual practices may be ~ enjoy the lengthening days, the overall increasing warmth with each day, and be sure to take a moment to appreciate the gifts that each season brings.  Blessed Be!