As life springs up all around us, the world around us changes. It’s amazing to see the difference between winter and summer in the village of Earthaven, my community in the mountains of western North Carolina. In winter when all the leaves are off the trees, things around the village seem closer together. I can see buildings in other neighborhoods. I can see the mountain horizon around us. As the leaves grow in, bright green surrounds us and our village changes. In the summer, so much beauty of life shifts how our neighborhoods relate physically with each other. In some ways, the village can feel like a different place. As the leaves come out, so do the people. As we move into summer, the people of the village are seen out and about more and more. We move into the season of work and play.
Every year around the first of May, we celebrate this shift of seasons and life with our annual Beltaine Festival- a day of celebration, ritual, and feasting. The festival begins with our May Faire. We gather on our Village Green to make flower wreaths, paint faces, play games, have a picnic lunch, and just chill out together in the sun. We dance around our Maypole, dancing in the summer. We jump over our sacred Bel-Fire. We feast around the fire, sing songs, and recite poetry into the night.
Beltaine is the Celtic name for the cross-quarter holiday between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Linguistically, one of the meanings of the word Beltaine is “lucky fire”. Ancient Celtic culture was a herding culture. Beltaine was the time of year to move the herds from the winter fields into the summer sheilings (fields). They would drive the herd between two fires, blessing the animals (as well as driving away disease and insects). The Bel-fire would also bless the people and the land. At Earthaven, we jump over our Bel-Fire, jumping together in pairs, in groups, and individually, blessing new and continuing relationships into the new season. It’s a fun time, singing and drumming as we jump over the fire in different pairs and groups, reflecting the vast web of relationships here in my community.
There are many traditions associated with Beltaine. In my village, we are inspired by long-established customs around the world and have developed (and continue to develop) our own traditions for our community. As we move around the Wheel of the Year, having traditions that ground us in the season is important. As we come around again to Beltaine, at Earthaven we know that we will once again play together at the Beltaine Festival. It’s amazing to see the change from year to year in how the festival is enacted- the growing children and our changing lives are highlighted by the yearly gathering. Annual traditions help us to notice what has changed, as well as what has stayed the same.
As we move into the season of work and play, Beltaine is a great time to bless and celebrate our bodies. Gathering together in community to play in the sun is a wonderful way to bless the coming season. Establishing traditions for your own family or community isn’t difficult. Choose something to do every year to welcome the summer. It can be as simple as a special meal or a campfire. Your traditions will evolve with you and your community over time. Honoring the seasons with tradition can help us to honor ourselves as we grow and change. Finding ways to do this together is what community is all about.