The vernal equinox falls on March 20 in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the change of seasons and the time when many pagans celebrate Ostara. The spring festival might not be as well known as other pagan celebrations like Samhain or Beltane, but it is nonetheless an important part of the calendar as one of the eight sabbats, or holidays, pagans celebrate throughout the year.
While the beginning of spring has been seen as a time of renewal by cultures around the world throughout history, modern celebrations of Ostara actively incorporate rituals and symbols that honor fertility and rebirth.
Unlike many other pagan holidays, Ostara does not have its roots in Celtic tradition, rather in ancient Anglo-Saxon beliefs. The holiday is thought to have derived its name from the fertility goddess Eostre, whose own name comes from the Germanic word for “east.” The goddess is typically depicted as a young woman surrounded by light and budding trees and flowers, symbolizing her association with dawn and the coming of light of the spring season, according to Beliefnet. Symbols like eggs, rabbits and spring flowers are also associated with the goddess, speaking to the fertility and renewed life she is believed to bring.
Relation to Easter
It’s no coincidence that Ostara and Easter sound alike, share similar symbols and typically fall around the same time. The Christian holiday gets its English name from the Saxon goddess Eostre, and early Christianity adopted many of the rituals and symbols associated with the equinox festival because of their popularity.
“Eggs, bunnies, candy, Easter baskets, new clothes, all these ‘traditions’ have their origin in practices which may have little or nothing to do with the Christian holiday,” said Peg Aloi, in a commentary for the religion site Patheos. “The traditional coloring and giving of eggs at Easter has very pagan associations. For eggs are clearly one of the most potent symbols of fertility, and spring is the season when animals begin to mate and flowers and trees pollinate and reproduce.”
Pagans celebrate Ostara with various rituals focused on themes of renewal and rebirth. Planting seedlings and cultivating gardens is one of the most traditional celebrations of the holiday, though any engagement with nature, whether lying in grass or hiking through a forest, can be used as an opportunity to meditate on the change of seasons, according to paganism expert Patti Wigington. “Take some time to celebrate the new life that surrounds you in nature. ... As you do so, observe all the new things beginning around you -- plants, flowers, insects, birds.”
Many pagans also celebrate by eating fresh greens like sprouts and other vegetables, while others choose to fast in order to purge their bodies of toxins to clear their minds for the new season.