The seasons of the year figure heavily into most religions, even when religious celebrations are disguised as something other than their origins. Regardless of the overt intentions, most major holidays fall right around the same times in every religion, and these times correspond to solar or lunar events. Ostara is the Pagan celebration of the vernal equinox, and the traditional holiday predates modern religions - in fact, it is the celebration upon which Easter and Passover are based.
The vernal equinox, in short, is when winter turns to spring. The exact day varies year to year, but it generally falls right around March 21. On this day, the hours of daylight are equal to the hours of darkness, and nature begins to awaken from its annual hibernation. This theme of resurrection and rebirth is common throughout the springtime celebrations of many religions.
For ancient Pagans, this holiday signified the beginning of the growing season and indicated the coming of warmer weather, both very important factors in life at the time. Modern Pagans celebrate the holiday both as a way to celebrate nature and experience spiritual renewal.
The holiday itself is named after Eostre, a spring goddess of the Germanic tradition. Eostre herself remains somewhat of a mystery - there isn't much written record of her, and it is thought that she was worshiped by tribes who used oral tradition rather than written records to record history. As the goddess of spring, she was a symbol of fertility - she may have been the original source of the association of eggs with springtime celebrations.
In fact, her name is the precursor to the name of the Easter holiday, into which eggs also figure heavily despite having nothing to do with the purported reason for the holiday. She may also be indirectly responsible for the Easter bunny as well - in the areas in which she was celebrated, the spring equinox was a time when hares would come out of hibernation and mate continuously. A female hare can even conceive a litter while still pregnant with another one - this remarkable fertility became a symbol of the season and also of the goddess associated with fertility. Hence, we get 'Eostre rabbits' in the spring.
Growth and awakening figure heavily into Ostara celebrations. Because the day marks the coming of the planting season, modern Pagans start seeds to later transfer outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. The act of caring for the seedling daily is an act of daily worship to the goddess.
The dainty colors of new buds and flowers are honored with pastel decorations, which is a typical theme throughout the springtime celebrations of most religions - again, a direct parallel can be drawn to Easter. Eggs are another common theme, themselves often dyed pastel colors. This unmistakable fertility symbol is common across almost every spring celebration of any religion.
For Pagans, Ostara is a time for spiritual awakening and rebirth. Walking meditation is a common practice and special attention is paid to the signs of nature coming back to life. It is a time when new beginnings and fresh starts are common, and there is a rash of soul-searching and clearing away of negative energy. This spiritual cleansing is also reflected in the practice of spring cleaning - both the home and the heart are cleared of unneeded or harmful things and aired out in the spring breeze.
Whether you're Pagan or not, chances are you've noticed many of your own springtime rituals in Ostara celebrations, and there's a reason why. Unlike dogmatic religions, Pagan customs have been practiced pretty much the same way since neolithic times, because so much of it is simply human nature. Who could resist a springtime walk in a forest? Is there anyone who isn't inspired by nature's annual new beginning? So no matter your own tradition, honor the season with a spiritual cleansing and rebirth - to make room for beautiful things to come.