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.
1. Beltane 2010
The festival centres on the performance of a ritual drama, based on aspects of the ancient festival of Beltane, celebrating the fertility of the land and animals and the rebirth represented by the start of summer on May Day. Photo: Greg Macvean
2. Fiery festival 2000
Flaming torches, fire sculptures and a bonfire are all part of the Beltane celebration. And all the flames are lit from the need-fire, a sacred flame started naturally by friction alone. Photo: Paul Chappells
3. May Queen 1993
The May Queen is one the two main figures in the Beltane ritual. The goddess-like figure brings the Green Man - the other chief character - back to life after he dies and she accepts him as her consort. Photo: Bill Henry
4. Painted faces 2004
Revellers with painted faces join in the traditional Celtic celebration of summer's arrival at the Beltane festival in 2004. Photo: Rob McDougall