Is Beltane A Christian Holiday?

Is Beltane A Christian Holiday? April 28, 2024

Beltane?  What’s that?

Beltane is celebrated as the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice and for thousands of years, heralded the beginning of summer.

The Maypole is a symbol of Beltane
The Maypole is a symbol of Beltane           Pixabay Image by Lars Eriksson

Beltane is one of the eight spokes of the pagan Wheel of the Year.

What is the Wheel of the Year?

In ancient times, before the Christian missionaries arrived in northern Gaul and Britain and Ireland, the Celtic people who lived there already had their own religious beliefs and practices which Christians deemed “pagan” and their own practitioners known Druids.

These religious beliefs and practices were largely derived from things found in nature which were a part of daily life in ancient times and from the seasons and seasonal changes in weather.  Things like the sky, the sun, the Earth, rivers, trees and many other things became deities or were associated with deities.

Where our calendar evolves from Roman, Greek and even Sumerian accounting, these Celtic people used a calendar based on four seasons and four solar events, the two solstices and the two equinoxes.

The Spring Equinox was frequently the beginning of the new year since the spring is the season of re-birth (also read: resurrection.

The year began with the Spring Equinox, then the Summer Solstice, then the Autumnal (fall) Equinox and finally, the Winter Solstice.  There was a festival associated with each of these events and with the midpoint between each pair.

Did the Christians change the pagan holidays?

Christian missionaries determined that it might be advisable to align Christian festivals and celebrations with existing festivals already celebrated by the people.

  • Yule became Christmas.
  • Ostara became Easter.
  • Litha became St. John’s (the Baptist) Day.
  • Mabon became Michaelmas.
  • Imbolc became Candlemas and St. Brigit’s Day.
  • Beltane became St. Walpurga’s Day.
  • Lughnasadh became Lammas.
  • Samhain became Hallowe’en (All Saints’ Day).
Wheel of the Year chart Image by William T. Orr, Jr.

So, what is Beltane?

Hello Summer!
Hello Summer!     Pixabay image by Stephan Schweihofer

Beltane was celebrated at the end of April and the beginning of May.  It marked the beginning of summer. It became the Celtic and Germanic May Day festival, occurring halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It was associated with fertility and new life and growth.  It began the season of growing plants and new animal life as well.

The festival is celebrated by building and dancing around May Poles and building and dancing around bonfires.

Some Pagans celebrate Beltane when the May blossom (hawthorn) first starts to bloom, which means there might be considerable local variation.

Modern “Druids” explain Beltane in this way:

Beltane (Beltaine, Belltaine, Bealtaine, Beltain, Beltine, Bealteine, Bealtuinn, Boaldyn), meaning ‘bright fire’ or ‘lucky fire’ is held on May 1st (May 15th in Scotland) and celebrates the start of summer, the crop and pasturing season. Although scholars are non-commital, many of us believe Beltane honors the ancient continental Celtic sun and healer God, Belenus.

At Beltane, we open to the God and Goddess of Youth. However old we are, Spring makes us feel young again, and at Beltane we jump over the fires of vitality and youth and allow that vitality to enliven and heal us.

Barn swallows grow in summer
Barn swallows grow in summer    Pixabay image by Jochen Schaft

St. Walpurgis Day

It seems that there was no quite convenient Christian holiday to associate with Beltane, so the Christian missionaries found a saint with which to associate with May Day.

St. Walpurga, a 7th century French prioress, was a beloved nun and healer whose canonization occurred on April 30 and May 1 in 879 CE.  The church celebrates the saint on Walpurgis Eve (April 30) and Walpurgis Day (May 1).

OK. Is Beltane a Christian holiday?

Given that there is no direct correlation between the Pagan holiday and the saint’s celebration and that there is no major Christian festival celebrated on May 1, we must conclude that Beltane is not associated with a a Christian holiday like Christmas or Easter and is not therefore, a Christian holiday.  Christians in some locations do venerate St. Walpurga on that day, however.

Of course, many people will have many opinions and I would invite all to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 

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