The Beltane Fire Festival of Celtic origin has been celebrated in Edinburgh for centuries up until the 1820’s but with the changing seasons also did the celebrations change. Until the community spirit reawakened it in 1988 with a modern twist. It started with just one community member and now has over 300 volunteers bringing this extraordinary festival to Edinburgh each year at the end of April. The Festival celebrates the death of winter and the awaking of Summer.
The Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh
The two main characters throughout the festival are the May Queen and the Green Man with the shenanigans of The reds representing chaos and having no inhibitions. As well as other colourful characters entertaining the many thousand spectators that the festival now generates.
This was my first time attending the Beltane and gosh was I in for an experience! The crowds gathered quickly on top of Calton Hill, eager to get the best viewing position. You could feel the excitement and anticipation building and as soon as the sun went down the celebrations started. Firstly with entertainers dressed as flowers, spring had sprung. The crowd was cheering, enjoying the flamboyant performance’s.
The birth of Summer came gradually, the appearance of the overgrown wintered Green Man was welcomed and soon the May Queen was awakened, her many followers accompanying her, were soon up on the Acropolis dancing. The lighting of the torches and the over head decorative symbols were well underway. The drummers then lead the procession to the big fire arch. Will the May Queen decide to continue into the new world? Yes! The Green Man then undergoes his transformational ascendance from winter, losing his winter foliage.
As the procession moves on to the beating of the drums, so do the thousands of people gathered on the chilly dark night, seamlessly and effortless across the ragged hill top.
There were lots of different locations with performances to watch, including dancers with fire poi and the enactment of death and re-birth of a Phoenix. This year also seen the addition of the Mushroom Forest. These were created with candlewax from the caves in Edinburgh. The finale is by the bonfire where the last flame of the evening is lit. Later everyone comes together to dance and relax while celebrating Beltane. At this time handfastings of community members take place. This is an old Pagan tradition dating back to the Celts where two people are bonded together in union for a year and a day. This was also known as an engagement or trial marriage. It was a truly unconventional and entertaining evening that went on until the wee hours!
If you plan to visit Edinburgh for the Beltane Fire Festival next year I would highly recommend booking accommodation in advance. More details on tickets etc. can be found at the Beltane Fire Festival page.
Have you celebrated Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh? What was your most memorable moment? We would love to hear from you. Please comment below. If you found this article interesting and helpful, don’t forget to share! Thanks.