Saturday, May 01, 2010


An ancient Gaelic festival, Bealtaine was originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. though there were similar festivals held at the same time in the other Celtic countries.

Beltane marks the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. The lighting of bonfires on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival. The herds would be guided through a valley between the fires to purify them for the year. Up until the 1950's, it was common for priests here and in Europe to light two fires and pass people through much for the same reason.

Also known in much of the northern hemisphere as "Bright May Day", in Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as Luan Lae Bealtaine; the first day of the week to emphasize the first day of summer. Today you'll find most celebrations on the evening with the closest full moon. In the US, where many of the participants follow a modern revision of the holiday, stick to the May 1st calendar day to coincide with the May Day celebrations associated with Wiccan and Neopagan religions with ties to old Europe.

The lighting of a community Bealtane fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.

With a high density of immigrants from Ireland and the rest of the UK located here in Ulster County, you are more likely to see the occasional bow of Mountain Ash tied to doors and windows during the first week of May. Not much different than the tradition of pine wreaths around the winter solstice. Usually decorated with ribbons, garland and colored eggs.

The holiday closely related to Beltane in America is Samhain, Also known as Halloween and coincides with the Beltane celebration in the southern hemisphere for the same reason we celebrate here.

For those who follow these traditions of Celtic origin, I wish you well on this high holiday and hope for the purest year to come.

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