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Beltane or Beltaine (From either Irish Gaelic Béalteine or Scottish Gaelic Bealtuinn; both from Old Irish Beletene, "bright fire") is an ancient Gaelic holiday celebrated around May 1."Bealtaine" is the name in modern Irish for the month of May. It is also the traditional first day of summer in Ireland. It is a Cross quarter day being midpoint between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. May 5 (Old Beltane) is the precise astronomical date.
Early Gaelic sources from around the 10th century state that the Druids would create a need-fire on top of a hill on this day and rush the village's cattle through the fires to purify them and bring luck ("Eadar dà theine Bhealltuinn" in Scottish Gaelic, "Bettween two fires of Beltane"). People would also go between the fires to purify themselves. This was echoed throughout history after Christianisation (with regular people instead of Druids creating the need fire) up until the 1950s, while in some places the celebration of Beltane persists, people mainly go between the fires today.
Beltane is a specifically Gaelic holiday, not "Celtic," as other Celtic cultures, such as the Welsh, Bretons, and Gauls, do not celebrate it. A Beltane Fire Festival is held every year during the night of 30th April on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland attended by around 15,000 people.
In neopaganism, the name Beltane or Beltaine is used for a sabbat, one of the eight solar holidays, which is celebrated on this day. Although the holiday uses features of the Gaelic Beltane, such as the bale fire, it bears more relation to the Germanic May Day festival, both in its significance (focussing on fertility) and its rituals (such as maypole dancing). Gerald Gardner, the principal originator of the Wiccan religion, referred to the holiday as May Eve.
Among the neopagan sabbats, Beltane is a cross-quarter day; it is celebrated in the northern hemisphere on May 1 and in the southern hemisphere on November 1. Beltane follows Ostara and precedes Midsummer (see the Wheel of the Year).
See also Walpurgis Night.