“At Beltane, quhen ilk bodie bownis
To Peblis to the Play,
To heir the singin and the soundis;
The solace, suth to say,
Be firth and forrest furth they found
Thay graythis tham full gay;
God wait that wald they do that stound,
For it was their feast day the day they celebrate May Day”
(‘Peblis to the Play’, The Maitland Manuscripts, fifteenth and sixteenth Century Scots poetry)
Once the Vernal Equinox has passed, the light builds momentum day after day. This is truly the height of Spring and, as the Earth tilts closer and closer towards the sun, we begin the ascendance towards Summer. The Celtic festival Beltane, on 1st May, is the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice and is a time associated with light, fire and fertility – not only of the body but also mind and spirit, including creativity. The name comes from the Gaelic for ‘fires of Bel’ (a Celtic God) and celebrates the coming of Summer; historically the beginning of the farming calendar would be a time of hope and community excitement.
Many of the rituals of Beltane involve fire, particularly evening bonfires, thought to bring purity and fertility. People would jump over the Beltane fire for good luck and future happiness. Today, the biggest Beltane celebrations in the UK are in Edinburgh on 30th April, with bonfires lit in the evening and burning until dawn on Calton Hill. At the University of St Andrews, my alma mater, students gather on East Sands (formerly Castle Sands) and run into the North Sea at dawn on May Day. I’ve never been so cold in my life, but it was equally invigorating and joyful.
The ancient festival of Spring is a holiday in many European cultures with many traditions involving dancing, singing and cake. So here’s to setting the table for a Beltane celebration this long weekend (if you have one – not me!).
Tablescape details: Pyrus flowers, Pops and Piaf candle stick holders, Liberty fabric tablecloth, Fairholme Studio and The Table Edit candles, H&M linen napkins, vintage vases, plates, glasses, books and cutlery.