As springtime finally comes to Scotland in the form of the flowering of the Hawthorn (or May) flowers, those in the know start getting ready for an all night party known as Beltane. One of the ancient Celtic fire festivals, Beltane is a time of clearing out the cobwebs, asking for blessings of the growing season to come but most of all just a chance to party.
Flowering Hawthorn - the cue to celebrate
Each year in Edinburgh on the evening of 30th April begins a spectacular Beltane celebration up on Calton Hill. Starting in 1988 an eclectic group of professional musicians, dancers and academics devised a contemporary celebration that is now an evolving, volunteer, outdoor theatrical event.
Waiting for sunset on Calton Hill
Drawing upon historical records, ritual dance, drumming and symbolic storytelling the event retells the story of the Greenwood Marriage of the May Queen and the Green Man. This year in particular it came just a day on the heels of the royal wedding so one could swing between a very current and a very ancient marriage celebration all in the same weekend!
The May Queen Arrives
Entering the Fire Arch
Before its current location, the early events were set upon Arthur’s Seat and were not just a celebration of culture but also a protest of the then Thatcher government’s restrictions on the rights of to gather. What started out as a free community event now sells out the 12,000 tickets (costing £6) that they are allotted each year by the city. I also hear from very reliable sources that it is not quite as wild (or nudie) as it was in those early days.
If you can’t get to Edinburgh you can have your own Beltane celebration wherever you may reside. The basic themes are of “out with the old and in with the new”, hopes for prosperity, good luck and blowing off steam from the winter. The colours of Beltane are red and white, and a good amount of green for the Green Man himself. Light a fire or candle at sunset and try to (safely) keep it going until dawn when your night of unabashed merriment should end with the washing of your face in the fresh dew of May Day. If you happen to be face down in said grass by them, well two birds one stone I guess.
For those of a more decorous manner a backyard BBQ with friends is the perfect way to herald Beltane. Be sure to gather lots of flowers for decoration and the women should feel free to pop a few fresh buds into their hair. The menu should reflect the wildness of the original event so this is the time to break out the wild salmon and maybe some venison. One of the main traditions of Beltane gone by would be to drive the cattle over the embers or even between two fires as a blessing, so maybe not so much with the beef or lamb for this occasion.
You can also gather the welcome fresh bounty of springtime with asparagus, spinach and of course strawberries! I am going to experiment with cooking my Salmon on a Plank of Ashwood as the natives of Northwest America would have done, for additional flavour and to save time and effort on the washing up if things get out of hand, so watch this space.