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Celebrate spring

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By Special to the Monitor

Calendars show the official first day of spring as the vernal equinox, which this year occurs on Thursday. Somehow the equinoxes never get as much attention as the solstices; they’re not the longest or shortest day of the year. But that’s actually the key to their luster. Equinoxes are the only two days of the year when day and night are the same length everywhere on Earth. Then the next day it shifts, with day lengths varying worldwide until the autumnal equinox in September brings it all together again. That’s a special global aspect of the vernal equinox, but in the northern hemisphere, where there are distinct seasons, the arrival of spring is celebrated. People in many places, and over millennia, have observed the arrival of spring with holidays and traditions related to sunshine, warmth, fertility and rebirth.For Christians, Easter is the spring holiday, and it certainly celebrates rebirth. But where did that name come from? In many countries, Christians use a name that comes from the Hebrew pesach, related to Passover. But in England, Germany and the United States, it is Easter - from the goddess Eostre (Saxon) or Ostara (Teutonic). As a word, her name is connected with the east, dawn and glorious morning light, and she is considered the goddess of fertility and rebirth.Many customs traditional to this time of year show the continuing practice of old ways. The connection of rabbits to fertility is easy. As for colored eggs, in some places spring may have marked the availability of birds’ eggs as a welcome addition to the sparse, dull winter diet. The variety of colors of wild bird eggs, and hunting for the nests, may be connected with colored eggs and egg hunts practiced today. In many places people keep Easter egg shells through the rest of the year to protect against harm, especially hail and lightning. The return of the sun’s warmth is still celebrated too. In some places in Germany, wooden sun wheels were set aflame and rolled down hills and through the fields, symbolically bringing the sun’s warmth to the soil. Hot cross buns, and other items decorated with equal-armed crosses, may echo these wheels. Some Celts colored eggs bright red to honor the sun and farmers threw eggs high over the fields to encourage the grain to grow tall. In England, brightly-colored eggs were rolled down hills. Egg rolls and tosses are still held today.Some customs carried on by present-day Pagans are not as familiar to the general population. In observing the Wheel of the Year, the Ostara or Eostre sabbat is celebrated at the vernal equinox, without the reference to moon phases necessary for setting Passover and thus Easter. When decorating eggs for a hunt, the decorations may include symbols of good fortune for the finder. Some groups concentrate on blessing seeds, and celebrate with the Green Man and Goddess, who walk the greening fields taking delight in nature’s abundance.Ostara rituals may be held at sunrise, greeting the returning sun and working to be in balance with the changing of the seasons. Rituals usually include giving thanks to the sun and the lady for fertility and growth.Be it Easter or Ostara, take a little time to enjoy the turn of the seasons and the return of the sunshine!Our Lady of the Wood, based in Los Alamos, will be celebrating Ostara at dawn Sunday at Overlook Park; see the listing on this page.