Friday, May 1, 2015

Beltane's Day: The May Day Traditions of My Scots Ancestors

Copyright 2015, The Hopelessly Hooked Genealogist (B. Harrison)

Today is May Day:  May 1st, 2015.  In honor of my Celtic heritage, I'm including a blog post on the celebrations that are traditionally held in the Month of May in Scotland.    May Day in Scotland is called "Betane's Day" or "Beltaine", and has been celebrated for centuries with a traditional Scottish festival with merriment and mischief throughout the month. My many Scots ancestors in Balnagown, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Kildary, and Renfrewshire in the 1600's and early 1700's would have celebrated the welcoming of summer with a traditional fire festival. Their descendants in Scotland today still celebrate in much the same manner, honoring the traditions of their ancestors.  Festivities often begin on April 30, the eve of Beltane's Day. states that "On April 30, people from all around the world ...come together at the top of Edinburgh's Calton Hill to celebrate the Beltane Fire Festival.... a modern version of Beltane which began on the evening before May 1 and marked the start of summer".  

Web images and descriptions of the modern day Beltane's festivals in Scotland brings to mind a cross between the Burning Man festivals and Mardis Gras that we have annually in America. A walk on the wild is one of the tamer photos, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

The Beltane Fire Festival at Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - 

The website for Rampant Scotland at describes Beltane's Day this way: "A pagan fire festival which goes back to pre-Christian times - originating with Baal in Phoenicia. It was supposed to encourage the crops to grow. There has been a holiday at the start of May in many parts of Scotland for centuries. Young girls would also rise early to wash their faces in the May dew. The custom of lighting fires at this time has come through in place names such as Tarbolton in Ayrshire ("tor" meaning hill and 'bolton' from 'Beltane'). The ancient Druidic Fire Festival has been revived by 'New Age' followers who gather on the historic Calton Hill in Edinburgh."
                                  (image source: Pinterest, artist unknown)

Another wesbite, "Mysterious Britain & Ireland -Mysteries, Legends, and the Paranormal" at says this: 
"Beltane (or Beltaine) is a festival that marks the return of summer with the lighting of fires; where people could burn their winter bedding and floor coverings, ready to be replaced afresh. Referred to as a Gaelic ceremony, it has been celebrated for thousands of years throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. In fact in Ireland, it supposedly marks the arrival of the Gaels on to Irish shores". 
"May Day, The Ancient Festival of Beltane", image courtesy of (artist unknown).