Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Beltane


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is beltane. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Beltane refers to the Celtic May Day festival.

// She looks forward to the festivities and traditions her town has kept alive to celebrate Beltane each year.

BELTANE in Context

“A yearly cycle of rituals, known as sabbats, celebrate the beginning and height of each of the four seasons of the Northern Hemisphere. Each ritual encourages participants to celebrate the changes the seasons bring to nature and to reflect on how those changes are mirrored in their own lives. For example, at Beltane—which takes place May 1, at the height of spring—Wiccans celebrate fertility in both the Earth and in people’s lives. The rituals are constructed to not only celebrate the season but to put the participant in direct contact with the divine.” — Helen A. Berger, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6 Sept. 2021

Did You Know?

To the ancient Celts, May Day marked the start of summer, and a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed, requiring that people take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a summer ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The word Beltane has been used in English since the 15th century, but the earliest known instance of the word in print—as well as the description of that summer ritual—is from 500 years previous: it appears in an Irish glossary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in the south of Ireland, near the end of the first millennium.

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