IT started out as a small celebration of a traditional pagan ceremony – and a protest against the Thatcher government’s restrictions on rights to gather.
Now, 25 years on, Edinburgh’s Beltane festival is preparing to celebrate its anniversary in style, with its biggest and best fire spectacle expected to attract a crowd of thousands.
Organisers are to celebrate the quarter-century on April 30 with extra-large fire sculptures on Calton Hill, which will be visible from Princes Street to entice people to take part.
There are also plans for a family Beltane ahead of the main festival and an exhibition showing 25 years of the event’s costumes, puppets and photos.
Beltane is based on a traditional pagan fertility festival of the same name, held to welcome the arrival of spring.
It was revived in Edinburgh in 1988, and was set to be held on Arthur’s Seat – the site of the original Edinburgh pagan celebrations – but was moved to Calton Hill for practical purposes.
The Beltane Fire Society has run it on a voluntary basis ever since.
Producer Tom Watton said this year the event would be visible from far and wide. “For Beltane itself, we’re going to increase the amount of fire we’re having on the hill,” he said. “There will be fire sculptures, as well as installations.
“Traditionally we start about 10 o’clock, but we’re going to have things going on the hill from about half past eight.
“You’ll be able to see it from Princes Street and look up and say ‘This is somewhere I want to be’.”
The festival itself will be preceded by an exhibition at Art’s Complex in London Road from February 25 to March 4.
Mr Watton said: “Beltane’s had many changes over the past 25 years and we’ve got all the photographs. We’re making it into a story so you can see where we’ve come from and where we’re going.”
Beltane, which often includes at least partial nudity on the part of some pageant participants, is aimed at adults, but plans are also under way for a family-friendly event this year.
Mr Watton said: “We’ve still got details to discuss with the council, but it would be the weekend before the main event, with workshops, making masks and we’ll put sculptures up.”
City events champion, Councillor Steve Cardownie said: “What started out to be quite a small niche event has grown into something hugely popular.
“Congratulations to them on their quarter century – they’re firmly established now as part of the festival scene in the city, and I’m sure they’ll go from strength to strength.”
There will be an open meeting for anyone who would like to find out more at Art’s Complex east wing, ground floor, on February 26 at 5pm.
A limited number of cut-price tickets will go on sale on February 28 for £5 at the Hub, Hub tickets online, Ripping Records and Ticket Scotland. After April 1, tickets will cost £6 in advance, £8 on the day. For details see www.beltane.org.