Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An ancient Celtic feast marked by the lighting of bonfires and the performance of various rites of purification.
  • n. The day on which this feast was held, usually May 1.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • proper n. An ancient Gaelic/Celtic holiday celebrated around the first of May.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. The first day of May (Old Style).
  • n. A festival of the heathen Celts on the first day of May, in the observance of which great bonfires were kindled. It still exists in a modified form in some parts of Scotland and Ireland.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. The first day of May (old style); old Mayday, one of the four quarter-days (the others being Lammas, Hallow-mass, and Candlemas) anciently observed in Scotland.
  • n. An ancient Celtic festival or anniversary formerly observed on Beltane or May-day in Scotland, and in Ireland on June 21st.

Etymologies

Middle English, from Scottish Gaelic bealltainn.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)

Examples

  • IN THE CENTRAL Highlands of Scotland bonfires, known as the Beltane fires, were formerly kindled with great ceremony on the first of May, and the traces of human sacrifices at them were particularly clear and unequivocal.

    The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion

  • IN THE CENTRAL Highlands of Scotland bonfires, known as the Beltane fires, were formerly kindled with great ceremony on the first of

    The Golden Bough

  • That there were two days known as Beltane at the beginning of last century is evident from a book of Scotch proverbs published in 1721 by James Kelly,

    Folk Lore Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland within This Century

  • May 1st is a day of importance in many European cultures - known as Beltane / Bealtaine in the British Isles and as Walpurgisnacht in Germany and Scandinavia ... as well as being International Workers Day ...

    Irish Blogs

  • In Scotland, the May holiday was called Beltane -- or Beltaine or Bealltainn or any one of a number of other variations.

    Unusual Historicals

  • The former took place in the beginning of May, and was called Beltane or "fire of God".

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  • As part of the ritual, a "Beltane" cake (or bannock, a small oat bread) was passed.

    Unusual Historicals

  • The former took place in the beginning of May, and was called Beltane or "fire of

    The Age of Fable

  • On Saturday, Beltane proper, I initiated Mason in the tradition of May baskets.

    Day in the Life of an Idiot

  • You may already have sunburn, and hosepipe bans may be looming, but summer hasn't truly begun until the festival of Beltane has passed.

    This week's new events

Comments

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  • Of unknown etymology. The second element might be related to the Irish for "fire", or it might not. The OED of 1887 finished up its etymology with this pungent and Rabelaisian criticism, words I fear will not make it through when it's revised for the third edition:

    The rubbish about Baal, Bel, Belus, imported into the word from the Old Testament and classical antiquity, is outside the scope of scientific etymology.

    May 14, 2013