THE festival of Beltane, Latha Bealltainn/Bealltuinn in Scottish Gaelic, is celebrated by Scots up and down the country – but what is it?

The ancient Celtic festival of Beltane is traditionally held on May 1 to mark the halfway point between spring and summer.

The first day of the month of May is known as May Day, with the event stemming from the pagan festival celebrating spring and fertility.

Traditional rituals                                  

Rituals were performed to protect cattle from harm as they were released into the summer fields – most often with bonfires. People and their cattle would walk around, between, or leap over the flames and embers to protect the cattle from both natural and supernatural harm.

The symbolic use of fire was also used in people's homes. The fire would be extinguished and re-lit with a flame from the Beltane bonfire.

The colour of fire was used to decorate doors, windows, byres and livestock with flowers.

The National: A woman participating at the Calton Hill celebrationsA woman participating at the Calton Hill celebrations (Image: Raymond Davies)

Holy wells were also visited and Beltane dew would be wiped on to the face, believed to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. Beltane babies are those born on or of the celebrations, and are considered to be a blessing to the community with abundance and growth.

Many of these customs grew and were used as part of May Day or Midsummer festivals in parts of UK and Europe.

Modern celebrations

Beltane celebrations fell out of popularity over the 21st century, but since the 1980s – the celebrations have been revived with local cultural events.

One of these is held in Edinburgh every year on April 30 at Calton Hill. The celebration has attracted crowds of around 10,000 people from all across the globe.

Following the decline in agricultural work and increase of industry over the 21st century, the festival is considered to celebrate masculine and feminine energies uniting, fertility, the beginning of summer, and the Spring Equinox.