There are a handful of events during each year that I always look forward to more than anything else. These events mark the changes through the year and celebrate the happiness each season has to offer. This weekend was my ‘spring happiness fix’: Beltain Festival at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire. Beltain (or Beltane) is one of the Gaelic seasonal festivals and celebrates the beginning of Summer, usually taking place around May Day.
My family, friends and I have been attending this magical event for several years. Sometimes it pours with rain, sometimes the sun scorches down but there is always fantastic music, great picnic food, bizarre roundhouse story telling and of course the burning of the Wicker Man.
We each write a wish on a piece of paper and tie it to the Wicker Man.
There’s dancing around the may pole and all of the roundhouses and buildings in the farm are open with demonstrations and decorations to celebrate summer.
It’s traditional for us to gather in the roundhouse and listen to the bard telling stories around a fire. These stories are often nonsensical and usually involve audience participation of some kind (chanting verses or shouting out animals one may find along a treacherous walk in the woods for example). The children love the magical drama and we adults enhanced the fun with a drinking game – drink when you hear ‘giant’, ‘Arthur’, ‘Excalibur’…
At nine o’clock the Wicker Man is lit as the sun goes down behind the hill to the sound of drumming. To join in, cheer when the head falls off.
End the evening with a processional walk back to the field of cars (not a metaphor) with gratitude for the beginning of Summer and smudged woad painted smiling faces.