The Acknowledgment of the Spring Equinox in Europe
The power of light is still very much a part of many cultures around the world. However, most of the traditions associated with the return of warmth, at least as far as modern Wiccan practice is concerned, come from Europe. Across the European continent, this date is known as Ostara, Eostre’s Day, Alban Eiber, Bacchanalia, Lady Day, Jack-o-the-Green Day, or simply as the Spring or Vernal Equinox.
Ostara was considered the Kalends of March in ancient Rome and was observed around March 25th, the approximate date of the Spring Equinox 2000 years ago. The old Roman calendar specified March as the beginning of the years. This was still accepted by much of Europe until the adoption of the new calendar in the Middle Ages.
Though the new calendar took the place of the old, and placed January at the beginning of the year, the Spring Equinox remained as the beginning of the astrological year. The first astrological sun sign is Aries, which begins at the Vernal Equinox.
The Festival of Janus was celebrated around the time of the Spring Equinox in ancient Rome. It is no coincidence that the first month of the new calendar was named after Janus. January is a silent homage to this Roman god, a god who is often associated with balance and renewal.
The Celebration of the Vernal Equinox Around the World
Romans were not the only ones to celebrate the power of light in the ancient world. The Indian festival of Vaisakhi was celebrated on the new moon closest to the Spring Equinox, and was considered the first day of the year. The same was true of the festival of Kalacharka in Tibet. However, this festival is now on a fixed date: March 15th.
Other spring festivals celebrating similar themes to Ostara include:
- The Feast of Isis;
- The Feast of Cybele;
- The Festival of Astarte;
- The Feast of Inanna;
- The Festival of Athena;
- The Feast of Bacchus;
- The Feast of Libera;
- Summerfinding (the Scandinavian equivalent of Ostara); and
- Li Chum.
And, of course, the most recognizable form of Ostara, the holiday of Easter. It is certainly no coincidence that Easter occurs on the first Sunday following the first full moon after Ostara. And the two holidays share many similar symbols and practices (such as the decorating of eggs and the idea of an Easter or Ostara Bunny). There are many such variations revolving around the celebration of the return of spring.
The exact nature of each festival may vary. However, they all do have a common theme — the veneration of the return of light and life.