Now Nature hangs her mantle green
On every blooming tree,
And spreads her sheets o’daisies white
Out o’er the grassy lea. - Robert Burns
The apparent path of the sun crossed the celestial equator northbound at 11:02 UTC today, making today the first day of astronomical spring for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and astronomical autumn for those in the Southern. So if you were wondering why this posted an hour late today, now you have your reason; I couldn’t resist posting at the moment of the equinox. Spring is my second favorite of seasons, surpassed in my estimation only by autumn; as I age I watch them go buy more and more quickly, flashing by in a rapid succession of days and weeks until they give way all too soon to the extremes of summer or winter…which in turn flash by and give way to the seasons I love, each in its turn, one after another as they have since long before the arrival of Man (and as they will no doubt continue until long after his departure).
The old Germanic name for the holiday, Ostara, is of course the origin for Easter; other Christian festivals adapted from pagan ones share the day but not the name, but in this case it’s the name but not the day! This is because the Christian rationale for the holiday is tied to the Jewish Passover, and so is calculated in the same way (from the first full moon of spring); in fact, in most European languages the words for Easter and Passover are the same. I’m glad we retained the older name in English; Ostara was a spring goddess whose name descends from that of the ancient Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess Hausos, of whom the Greek Eos, the Roman Aurora and the Vedic Ushas are all later forms (spring is, after all, the dawn of the year). There’s a beauty in that continuity: the timeless celebration of the return of life after winter, with the name of a goddess who has been worshipped in one form or another since many of the most widely-spoken languages in the world were one.