Ostara (Eostre) circa March 21, also known as the Spring or Vernal Equinox, is one of two dates where day and night are equal; a point of balance, after which the forces of light gain power and preeminence over the powers of darkness until it reaches its ultimate at Midsummer.
Deities honored during this festival are those of the maiden goddess and the youthful, warrior god. The sabbat takes its name from Eostra (Ostara), the Goddess of the Dawn, the Saxon Goddess who heralds the triumphant rebirth of the Sun and the return of the greening season. Hellenic traditions celebrate the return of Persephone, Demeter's daughter, from Hades. Some sects see this as the time of courtship between the God and the Goddess, whose relationship will then be consummated at the following sabbat of Beltaine.
When the Catholic Church preempted this rite, as with so many others, it kept the essence of the sabbat, but appropriated its essential properties for Christ. Ostara has always been a rite celebrating the resurrection and restoration of the Sun. The Holy Roman Church simply ascribed the resurrection to Christ, also known as the Son, who is also described in biblical terms as "the Light." Even the way in which "Easter" is arrived at is Pagan in origin, calculated from the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Equinox. That is, of course, unless a full moon falls on that date; at which time, the Easter sabbath falls on the following Sunday. While they were forced by an unchangeable astronomical event into keeping the essential date of the original Pagan Sabbat, it seems that having the Holy Easter Sabbath on a full moon was simply too much for the Church to abide!
Ostara is the beginning of the fertility festivals. Buds begin to push their way through the earth to reach the strengthening sun's light; animals in the wild feel the ancient instinct to breed; the energies of Nature shift subtly from the torpor of Winter to the exuberant activity of Spring. It is a time of new beginnings, of action, of saying goodbye to the old and making room for the new. We can see this urge reflected in our lives even today. We talk of "Spring cleaning" and "In Spring, a young man's fancy turns to..."; the desire to run the greening fields (or, in our world, walk the parks, fish, and other outdoor activities) vies urgently with the obligation of our workday routines, often resulting in "sick leave days" and spur-of-the-moment "personal days" where the real excuse is "Spring Fever."
Symbols of this holiday include eggs, rabbits, and flowers of all kinds. Modern secular activities such as the dying of Easter Eggs are remnants of ancient Pagan traditions. The Anglo-Saxons painted eggs with their hopes and dreams and presented them as a gift to Eostre. These eggs were then buried in the Earth, so that the Earth-Mother would know dreams of her children, in hopes that She would see fit to help them realize their desires. This practice predates Christianity by approximately 1000 years.
Rabbits (hares) were the companions of Eostre, and she is still often pictured with a hare by Her side. Because of their well-acknowledged reproductive ability, they are the perfect compliments to the start of a fertility-based season.
In many cultures, the Goddess was known not only as the Goddess of Fertility, but also as the Goddess of Grain. Therefore, special cakes and breads were baked and given to Her in offering. This tradition remained, long after the original reasons were lost, and we still see people baking special Easter breads and cakes today.
Other foods traditional to this season include those made of seeds, as well as pine nuts. Also, green leafy vegetables and sprouts are equally appropiate. Some groups create special dishes made of flowers, such as stuffed nasturtiums or carnation cupcakes.
Activities appropriate to celebrate the day include those listed above, as well as randomly collecting wildflowers on a walk through the woods, or buying a mixed bouquet from a florist. The flowers you choose will often reveal your inner thoughts and emotions, and their meanings to you can be divined through books, pendulum, and your intuition.
Some groups set the seeds they'll soon be planting within the sacred Circle of their Ostara rituals. In this way, either a special charging ritual can be done for the seeds, or the seeds can simply absorb the energy of the Circle. They can then be planted safely after the next full moon.
Ritual cleaning is often done, though usually in the secular vein today. It seems people are driven by the need to throw open the windows to our homes and force out all the stale, winter air. Many of us clean the house from top to bottom; sweeping every nook and cranny from ceiling to floor; cleaning out cabinets and drawers, and scrubbing them, too. Often, many choose this time of year to change the liners in drawers, or to put away the winter bedding in favor of the lighter-weight summer linen. Heavy winter clothes are washed, folded, and put away and the lighter weight spring and summer clothes find their way into our closets.
This same mundane ritual of household cleaning can be applied to our inner selves, as well. Use Ostara to clean out all the mental cobwebs and to throw away all the old, negative modes of thought. Throw open the doors to your mind, heart, and soul and let the gentle breezes of Ostara breathe new hope and the vigor of youth into your newly awakening life.