Beltane (Beltaine), also known as May Day, is celebrated on April 30-May 1. Considered a cross-quarter holiday, or fire festival, it is one of the eight traditional Pagan/Celtic sabbats - although Beltane appears around the world in many cultures and lineages.
Appearing at the halfway point between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Beltane originally signified the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but in modern times more appropriately signifies that the summer season is right around the corner and the days are growing longer. Its key themes centre on light, life, growth, renewal, fertility, and sexuality. Themes of fertility and sexuality are strong since Beltane represents the time of year where the Earth is most fertile and is beginning to blossom with beautiful fruits, flowers and abundance.
Historically, this festival was widely observed in Cornwall, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and was called “Bealtaine” by the Irish, and “Bealltainn” by the Scottish. Both names were derived from the Celtic word meaning “bright fire" and we still see the fire aspect of Beltane being celebrated with traditional gatherings igniting bonfires and burning away what no longer serves the community.
The Beltaine Festival is said to have been named after the Celtic god Belenus, also known in some countries as Belen, Belenos, Bel, and other names. Some say He was deemed a “Sun God,” and was associated with healing, light, and fire.
No Beltaine festival was complete without themes of fire, water, and flowers! Many believed the flames and ashes of the bonfires that were lit had magickal properties and could bring about good health and protection for the upcoming harvest. Flowers would be worn by many (even cows would have flower garlands!) and were also used to decorate everything – garlands were hung on doors, feasting tables were adorned, and homes had scattered flowers on every threshold. Yellow flowers like Dandelion and St John's Wort were mainly used as this color is most associated with fire and sunshine, but any color would do.
Maypoles, a rather phalic symbol, became a focal point of all Beltaine festivals and would be decorated with flowers or greenery as a symbol of fertile energy, growth, and spring blooming. There was even a time when communities would compete for the biggest and best Maypole in the region. Over time, ribbons were added to Maypoles and festival-goers would dance around them using the ribbon to weave around other dancers creating a braiding effect. This was said to symbolise the unionising of the masculine and feminine in divine fertility.
A majority of these customs are still celebrated today, although they vary greatly across countries and among individuals. Beltane, or May Day, celebrations occur around the world and often times music, food, and bonfires are the main events. Many still include a Maypole and dancing.
We celebrate Beltane to welcome the warmer weather spring and summer brings us. The sun makes us feel more energetic, we are lifted and blossoming into the light. You can celebrate Beltane in many ways to welcome in the start of the warmer weather, feel the sun shine, and appreciate nature.
Here are ways you can celebrate Beltane:
Get out in nature! Go for a long walk, take off your shoes and feel the fertile Earth beneath your feet.
Make your own wild-crafted flower crown out beautiful flowers and herbs.
Light a bonfire if you have the outdoor space, or a candle if you don't.
Meditate on the health of our amazing planet. Get involved with a local eco group to see what you can do to better serve the Earth.
Cleanse your space, especially doorways, with sage or palo Santo. Open the doors and windows wide to let in fresh air.
Make a Beltane bracelet by weaving three threads together, like the maypole ribbons. At the end of the bracelet write an intention onto a small slip of paper, roll it up and insert it into the weave. Come 1st August, burn the bracelet!