As THE sun sets on April 30 each year, something wonderful begins to stir on Calton Hill. A call-horn and drums call forth the ancient celtic May Queen and her retinue to bring the start of summer. We call it the Beltane Fire Festival, and it’s been happening here in one form or another for hundreds of years. It’s something we’re incredibly proud of and we think Edinburgh should be proud of it too.
As a girl, after my first Beltane as an audience member, I remember feeling awestruck by the body paint, flames, drums, ceremony and theatre. Now, I’m lucky enough to play the role of May Queen, the figurehead who gathers everyone to celebrate the arrival of summer as a community.
In the story we tell across the night, fantastical creatures and magical characters journey around the hill, representing the awakening of summer. We start with a huge performance on the National Monument, and culminate in lighting a bonfire and dancing to dozens of drums.
There is another story too: that of the hundreds of local volunteers who stage this celebration for an audience of thousands. As someone who was born in Edinburgh, it means a lot to me that my city fosters the unique culture that makes an event like this possible. The whole celebration is conceived and produced by our creative community of volunteers, the Beltane Fire Society. We all bring big, mad ideas to fruition, from last year’s 40-foot fire-breathing dragon, to the forest of giant glowing, reclaimed-candlewax toadstools that will feature this year. Together we develop and share skills in everything from puppetry, fire dancing and costume-making, to storytelling and the earthy drumming that makes the night so powerful.
Thank you Edinburgh for supporting us. You can see our love for what we do shine bright on the night. You let us share that with an open mind and free spirit. We’ve become part of our city’s psyche and our country’s history. Thank you for letting us use and care for Calton Hill, keep traditional skills alive, and create a massive family.
We want you to be a part of the celebration. Please join us on April 30 – the audience is part of the fabric of the night and atmosphere, not just practically but spiritually. And don’t feel you just have to stand back and watch. Feel free to paint yourself, bring some ivy, some bread to break, be warmed by the fire, make your own merriment, be with friends and dance with strangers. Join us, support local culture, and celebrate what will hopefully be a joyous summer.
We’ll see you on the Hill!
Anna Chaney is a volunteer performer and May Queen for the Beltane Fire Society. The Beltane Fire Festival takes place on April 30 at Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Gates open 8pm. Tickets and more information available at www.beltane.org