• synonyms


[bel-teyn, -tin]
  1. an ancient Celtic festival observed on May Day in Scotland and Ireland to mark the beginning of summer.
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Origin of Beltane

1375–1425; late Middle English (Scots) < Scots Gaelic bealltainn, Old Irish bel(l)taine, perhaps equivalent to *bel- an obscure element, perhaps the name of a supernatural person + tene fire
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for beltane

Historical Examples of beltane

  • The Highlanders have a proverb, “he is between two beltane fires.”

    Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 3, Slice 5


  • The Beltane customs seem to have been the same as elsewhere.

    Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I.

    Sir James George Frazer

  • The fuel was piled on a hill-top, and at the fire the beltane cake was cooked.

  • The following account of Beltane is extracted from a chapter dealing with Highland superstitions.

    Balder The Beautiful, Vol. I.

    Sir James George Frazer

  • There is some difference of opinion as to the particular day on which the Beltane festival was held in this country.

    Folk Lore

    James Napier

British Dictionary definitions for beltane


  1. an ancient Celtic festival with a sacrificial bonfire on May Day. It is also celebrated by modern pagans
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Word Origin for Beltane

C15: from Scottish Gaelic bealltainn
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for beltane



early 15c., from Lowland Scottish, from Gaelic bealltainn "May 1," important Celtic religious rite marking the start of summer, probably literally "blazing fire," from PIE root *bhel- (1) "to shine, flash, burn" (see bleach (v.)) + Old Irish ten "fire," from PIE *tepnos, related to Latin tepidus "warm." But this derivation of the second element is hotly disputed by some on philological grounds, and fires were equally important in the other Celtic holidays.

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

Also known as "Old May Day," because after the 1752 calendar reform it continued to be reckoned according to Old Style; it was one of the quarter-days of ancient Scotland.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper