Hey, who knows the Celtic holiday of Beltane? Traditionally considered the time when it was safe to return to ahem fornicating in the fields, there’s a lot of folderol and myth built up around the holiday that occurs in May first. Of course I want to get my oar in early because it’s become a big deal in Scotland so I expect all you Outlander fans to dive into the next big thing, as the Telegraph says Beltane is making a comeback with the mundanes, too. They tie it to the modern need to reconnect and the training from music festivals, but with more meaning:
“Beltane is a rural pre-Christian prehistoric tradition which saw communities come together after long winters of isolation,” [Pauline Bambry] says. “It marked their connection not just to nature but to each other. That need to belong to something or someone hasn’t changed. We can be just as isolated living in the city or in a town as the ancient Britons were in their round houses.”
People like the idea of tradition, even if it’s not exactly the way they remember it or just an excuse for fire. The Beltane Fire Sociey in Edinburgh gives a potted history that relies on sort of vague statements inspired by the translation of the word (bright fire) then jumps to the modern revival. There are some historic points we can state with some certainty. As medievalist errant writes, there were a variety of traditions associated with the time of year:
In most places, people gathered flowers and branches to make garlands or wreaths. Chaucer mentions woodbine and hawthorn in the Knight’s Tale, while sycamore was more common in Cornwall and birch in Wales. The flowers were then awarded as prizes or given as gifts to friends and neighbours. Washing one’s face in the morning May Day dew was supposed to bring youth and radiance to the complexion. The most enduring image of a May Day celebration is the Maypole, painted and beribboned and standing on the village green. While the earliest recorded evidence of it is from a Welsh poem by Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd in the mid-fourteenth century describing a maypole in Llanidloes, it seems otherwise to be English, rather than Celtic, in origin and to have migrated to the marches from English settlers. A number of theories exist as to their original significance, some less likely and more outlandish than others, but no definitive explanation has presented itself. From the early 1400s there are records of a number of English villages paying for platforms and ribbons to display and decorate maypoles.
Don’t forget, before Beltane on April 30th is Walpurgisnacht, which you might guess from the name is German. It was the night the witches all flew off to gather in the mountains and share news. To light the way or to ward them off, you lit the Beltane fire that night. I have a free (non-sexy as it’s written from my historian hat persona) story about Walpurgisnacht if you should like to indulge.
But no burning virgins! 😉