What Do We Celebrate???
By Celtic reckoning, the actual Beltane celebration begins on sundown of the preceding day, April 30, because the Celts always figured their days from sundown to sundown. And sundown was the proper time for Druids to kindle the great Belfires on the tops of the nearest beacon hill (such as Tara Hill, Co. Meath, in Ireland). These “need-fires” had healing properties.
Frequently, cattle would be driven between two such bonfires (oak wood was the favorite fuel for them) and, on the morrow, they would be taken to their summer pastures.
How did we Celebrate??
May is named for Maia, grandmother, the Goddess of death and fertility. Maia scorns marriage, so it is a good idea to put weddings off until June. Although less stern goddesses now oversee May festivities, wreaths and baskets of Hawthorn are still used in some May festivals in Maia’s honor.
The May Pole is the most familiar feature of May festivities, it has several distinct interpretations. In some cultures, the May Pole represented the world center, or alternately, the hub of the Wheel of heaven. In ancient times, the intricate dance of weaving cords around the pole was a magical attempt to direct Nature, which had become topsy-turvy over the course of time, back in order. Today the dance is performed by any who wish to participate in weaving the magic.
In other cultures, the May Pole was the Tree of Life, or a symbol of it.
Another aspect of the festival which survived up until the early 20th century in Ireland was the hanging of May Boughs on the doors and windows of houses and the erection of May Bushes in farmyards, which usually consisted either of a branch of rowan/caorthann (mountain ash) or more commonly whitethorn/sceach geal (hawthorn) which is in bloom at the time and is commonly called the ‘May Bush’ or just ‘May’ in Hiberno-English. Furze/aiteann was also used for the May Boughs, May Bushes and as fuel for the bonfire. The practice of decorating the May Bush or Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored egg shells has survived to some extent among the diaspora as well, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions observed on the East Coast of the United States
How Do we Celebrate Now?
Beltaine/Beltane and all the other ways it is said and pronounced it is still a time for feasting, rejoicing, frivolity,and celebration. This is not a time of solemnity. Is a time to look outward and forward. Beltane is a lusty, joyous, carefree Sabbat. Even today in some parts of England and Ireland Balefires are still lit on May eve. May Poles are also still a part of the May Day celebrations.
Beltane Fire Festival
Sunday April 30th 2017
Carlton Hill, Edinburgh Scotland