TONIGHT’S Beltane Fire Festival is shaping up to be the biggest and most popular since the event was established almost 30 years ago.
Thousands of revellers will gather to mark the annual celebration which sees Calton Hill blaze to life and echo to the sound of drumbeats, attracting visitors from all over the world.
And because the event falls on a Saturday, crowds are expected to be greater than last year, when 7500 people turned out to enjoy the spectacle. Highlights this year will include the mischievous Reds performing acrobatics on a decorated tower near the Dugald Stewart Monument.
The evening will also see performance groups bear flames around the hill, waving blazing wands and shooting jets of fire into the air.
Sara Thomas, the event co-ordinator, said: “With the event falling on a Saturday we’re pulling out all the stops, with even more fire and even more drums. We are looking forward to welcoming people to the biggest and most well attended Beltane ever”.
The ancient drama – which runs from 8pm to 1am – centres on a “magical procession” which sets off around Calton Hill led by the May Queen and her court.
They encounter many fantastical characters in the form of painted and costumed performers and acrobats.
The Green Man is “killed” by the May Queen, stripped of his winter guise and resurrected in a dramatic ritual performance, before the lighting of the traditional Beltane bonfire to welcome summer.
Anna Chaney, this year’s May Queen, said: “My favourite part of the event is once the union has been made, when the May Queen and Green Man light the bonfire. This is an ancient Celtic tradition when people would extinguish the fire in their hearths and congregate to start a new one to mark the start of summer.”
Traditionally Beltane has two groups of drummers – the Processional Drummers and the Beasties – but this year there will be four.
This year the May Queen will sport a dress crafted by professional theatre and costume designer Mona Kastell. The event has been put together by a cast of more than 300 dedicated volunteers who have given around 30,0000 hours of rehearsal preparation.
The festival is a re-imagining of an age-old ritual celebrating the death of winter and the rebirth of summer.
Ms Thomas added: “There is always a procession around Calton Hill and the elements are always represented in some way.
“But within the theme of death and rebirth, there is so much scope for reinterpretation and exploration. No two Beltanes are the same and new characters appear on the hill every year.”