17 pictures of Edinburgh's Beltane fire festival through the years as people celebrate the arrival of summer

Edinburgh's Calton Hill blazes with flaming torches, fire sculptures and bonfires

The sky burns bright on Calton Hill the night before May Day, when thousands gather to take part in the Beltane fire festival.

The ancient Celtic celebration of fire, new life and purity, marking the end of the darker seasons and the arrival of summer on May Day, was revived for modern times in the Capital in 1988. And from small beginnings it has grown to be the largest celebration of its kind in the world.

The ritual, acted out by around 300 performers, sees the May Queen and the Green Man lead a procession of characters around the National Monument. The event tells the story of the transition from winter to summer, which can only happen when the Green Man, an archetypal figure in folklore all over the UK, dies and is reborn. He does so to shake off the last remnants of winter so that he can join the May Queen as her consort.

The festival had to be cancelled for two years because of Covid, so last year’s marked its return for the first time since 2019. Here, we look back over the years with pictures of festivals past.

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