Also known as Ēostre, is named for the West Germanic goddess of spring. Early Anglo-Saxons held feasts in Ēostre’s honor, though this tradition was replaced by the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.
While it makes sense that early civilizations would have had some sort of celebration at the end of winter and the coming of spring, there are many questions around the validity of the story of Ēostre/Ostara herself.
Ostara, a pagan celebration that occurs on the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, celebrates the time of year where things are in perfect balance - dark and light, masculine and feminine. On the spring Equinox the day has the same number of hours of daylight as darkness, and ushers in a shift to longer days and warmer weather. The world is coming alive, and the earth is becoming fertile once again.
Ēostre is supposedly the connection of bunnies to Easter. A modern legend dating from the late 19th century was built with Ēostre transforming a proud bird into an egg-laying hare. In gratitude to her, the hare exercises its original avian function, to lay eggs, for Ēostre on her festal day. It is unclear why a bird would be grateful for this and some stories have it that Ēostre felt at least a little bit sorry for turning this bird into a hare, and allowed it to lay its beautifully colored eggs once a year.
Celebrated mid spring - often on or around the first of May (equidistant between the spring equinox and the summer solstice), Beltane is the Gaelic May Day festival. It is one of the four main Gaelic seasonal festivals (Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh).
Special bonfires were lit, often on hills or mountaintops - their flames, smoke and ashes were believed to have protective powers. All household fires were extinguished, and rekindled with flames from the Beltane bonfire.
Doors, windows, barns, and the very livestock themselves were decorated with yellow May flowers.
The bewildered, beautifully bedecked cattle were driven between two bonfires to keep them disease free and protected from spirits by the cleansing smoke. Individuals and couples would leap over the flames to do the same.
Maypoles were decorated with greenery and flowers for dancing. Some areas of Ireland popularized the May Bush: a thorny branch decorated with flowers, ribbons, seashells or painted eggshells, and candles.
The fire isn’t the only hot thing come Beltane - this celebration is sexy AND sacred! Spring fever and all the fiery passion of mating season are tied to this summer kick off party. It celebrates the joining of the Goddess with the energy of the God in sacred marriage, which the Celts thought was the basis of creation. Because people didn’t want to be competing with the gods, they typically postponed wedding celebrations until June, once Beltane had passed. The first full moon in June is when honey was harvested, so it was known as the honey moon. These fun facts could explain why June is a popular month for weddings, with ceremonies followed by a honeymoon!
Animals weren’t so restricted by these norms of course, so the explosion of baby critters this time of year comes as no surprise.
And what’s a fire filled celebration without a feast? There was often a sacrificial lamb, some sort of strange beverage called a caudle, and an oatmeal cake - the Beltane bannock. They’d pour a little out for the homies (this is called a libation, which we 100% did not know, despite using this word for years), and then dedicate the bannock bit by bit to appease the various threats to their livestock (fairies, foxes, etc.).
Nothing beats the Beltane dew in my opinion though: at dawn on Beltane, maidens would roll in the dew or wash their faces with it to increase attractiveness, maintain youthfulness and help with skin ailments.
So this Beltane, get up at dawn, wash your face with the morning dew, put some yellow flowers in your hair and around the house, and celebrate with some fire and feasting.