Ostara and other early Eastertide traditions to try before your hipster friends. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
How did we get from the resurrection of Christ to chocolate bunnies and dyeing hard-boiled eggs anyway? Read on and brag to your hipster friends that doing something hundreds of years after it was cool, as opposed to being the first to do something dumb. You can still embrace an anachronistic hipster appreciation of oddities by touting knowledge of these traditions so old they’re almost forgotten.
“This Ostarâ, like the [Anglo-Saxon] Eástre, must in heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries,” said Jacob Grimm of the famous “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” in his treatise on on Germanic mythology “Deutsche Mythologie” in 1835.
As the neo-Pagan celebration of the first day of spring, Ostara honors the spring equinox and the Earth, including themes of renewal, growth, and probably all the other stuff that hippy friend of yours goes on about. Typically falling on March 20 to 21 every year, the vernal equinox also represents the day and night being equal length on this date and is the midpoint between the summer and winter solstices, further embodying balance. Correspondingly, the folk tradition coincides with the agricultural cycle of sowing and planting seeds in springtime.
An essential symbol of Ostara, hares represent fertility (as you know what they say about rabbits). Early Germanic Lutherans introduced the “Easter Bunny,” but the hare as a mascot for spring goes back even further, commonly associated with the earlier Germanic deity Ēostre.
“Whether there was a goddess named Ēostre, or not, and whatever connection the hare may have had with the ritual of Saxon or British worship, there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote, where it is probably a very important part of the great Spring Festival of the prehistoric inhabitants of this island,” Charles Billson said, a well known translator and collector of folklore at the time, referring to England in “The Easter Hare” published in “Folk-Lore” Volume 3, Issue 4 in 1892.
How do you Ostara-fy your existing Easter Bunnies, you ask? Well, you don’t really need to. You’ve checked bunnies off the list in both respects, so let’s just move on.
Another familiar symbol of Ostara, eggs represent fertility. Archaeologist Brian Stewart studied evidence of decorated ostrich eggs coinciding with spring rituals as far back as sixty thousand years ago.
You might not recognize the first Christian Easter eggs, however, as they were solely dyed red in memory of the blood of Christ at his crucifixion. If you’re seeking softer tones reminiscent of spring for Ostara, try pastels. Many stores carry brightly colored dyes for Easter now which easily double for Ostara, but if you insist on conservative tradition, opt for red food dye sold separately.
Actually, you might already inadvertently celebrate these shared traditions by decorating eggs and gushing over bunnies, so no change necessary, but at least now you know, right?