As we greet the midway point between spring and summer, celebrating the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane is a joyous way to invite pleasure and connection into our lives.
Beltane, also known as May Day, falls on the first of May. It is a cross-quarter festival that marks the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In Celtic traditions, it also means the beginning of the abundant, bright, beautiful summer season.
Beltane and the Hawthorn Tree
Celebrations include decorating the May Tree, usually a hawthorn tree, by dancing around it while holding colorful ribbons. The hawthorn tree is sacred in that it represents the three faces of the Goddess. In the winter, it is gnarled and ancient looking, representing the wisdom of the Crone. In the spring, it bursts with beautiful flowers, representing the fresh possibilities of the Maiden. In the late summer and fall, it produces bright red berries, representing the fertility and abundance of the Mother.
Hawthorn is also known as the Fairy Tree, as it is said to be sacred to the fairy folk. Beltane is one of those times when it is believed that the veils between the worlds, specifically the fairy world and our world, thin a little bit. Treating the hawthorn tree with respect and reverence was a good way to keep the fairies on your side.
Beltane, Bonfires, and Blessings for Marriage
Traditionally, May Day was a time to get out of the house and celebrate with your neighbors. Bonfires were lit, representing the new heat and energy of the summer season, and were walked around or even leapt over for good luck and to cleanse any stagnant energy from the winter season. It was also a time for young people to meet and court so they could be wed in June, the month for marriage (named after Juno, the goddess of marriage, among other things).
Beltane is an ancient festival that is sometimes celebrated by modern pagans. But even without the official name and celebrations of this date, the time of year is powerful, and its spiritual meaning is accessible to anyone who is interested in experiencing it.
The beginning of May feels like a gift for many of us. April showers have mostly finished, and the world takes on an abundance of beauty as sunshine and flowers surround us. We are invited outside to enjoy the bright half of the year, which is a time for connecting with the magic of the natural world, especially that of plants, flowers, animals, the sun, and the earth. It’s a time to reconnect with our bodies, the food we eat, the flowers we smell, the sunshine on our skin, and the sensual joys of being a human being in a body.
How to Celebrate Beltane
Even if you don’t want to jump over a bonfire, decorate a hawthorn tree, or throw flowers over your doorstep, this is a wonderful time of year for small rituals that can help you connect with the spiritual meaning of Beltane. Here are some ideas:
Practice pleasure, especially the kinds of pleasures you can access outside. Go for a walk, smell the flowers, and soak up the sunshine.
Spend time outdoors quietly watching the plants, observing the flowers, and noticing any animals that show up—birds singing, squirrels hunting, or even your cat soaking up a sunbeam.
Dance. Move your body in gentle, loving, playful, and intuitive ways. Think of melting any stagnant places where the winter still sits within you.
Eat mindfully, receiving the abundance of the earth. Traditionally, dairy from cows was particularly important at this time of year, so you might especially enjoy some fresh yogurt or homemade ice cream.
Enjoy flowers. Observe the flowers that are blooming in your area. Pick some if it’s safe and you have permission, or buy some cut flowers to place in your home. Invite the energy of color, light, and scent into your environment.