Blessed Beltane everyone!
Beltane kicks off the merry month of May, and has a long history. This fire festival is celebrated on May 1st with bonfires,
[The maypole was an adjunct to the festival of bringing in the May. It is a phallic symbol, and as such represented fertility to the participants in the festival. In olden days, the revelers who went into the woods would cut a tree and bring it into town, decking it with flowers and greenery and dance around it clockwise (also called deosil, meaning "sun-wise", the direction of the sun's apparent travel across the face of the Earth) to bring fertility and good luck. The ribbons which we associate with the maypole today were a later addition.]
and lots of good old fashioned sexual energy
The Celts honored the fertility of the gods with gifts and offerings. Cattle were driven through the smoke of the balefires, and blessed with health and fertility for the coming year.
In Ireland, the fires of Tara were the first ones lit every year at Beltane, and all other fires were lit with flames from Tara.
How do modern day pagans observe this day?
Modern day pagan observances of Beltane include the maypole dances, bringing in the May, and jumping the cauldron for fertility. Many couples wishing to conceive children will jump the cauldron together at this time. Fertility of imagination and other varieties of fertility are invoked along with sexual fertility. In Wiccan and other Pagan circles, this is a joyous day, full of laughter and good times.
What about Walpurgisnacht? Is this the same thing as Beltane?
Walpurgisnacht comes from an Eastern European background, and has little in common with the Celtic practices.
Walpurgisnacht, a traditional holiday celebrated on April 30th in northern Europe and Scandinavia. In Sweden, typical holiday activities include the singing of traditional spring folk songs and the lighting of bonfires. Celebrations in Finland include a carnival and the drinking of alcoholic beverages, particularly sima, a type of mead.
In Germany, the holiday is celebrated by playing pranks on people, and creating loud noises meant to keep evil at bay. Many people also hang blessed springs of foliage from house and barns to ward off evil spirits, or they leave a piece of bread spread with butter and honey, called Ankenschnitt, as offerings for phantom hounds.
The origins of the holiday date back to pagan celebrations of fertility rights and the coming of spring. After the Norse were Christianized, the pagan celebration became combined with the legend of St. Walburga, an English-born nun who lived at Heidenheim monastery in Germany and later became the abbess there.
Walburga was believed to have cured the illnesses of many local residents. After her death she was canonized as a saint on May 1st. Although it is likely that the date of her canonization is purely coincidental to the date of the pagan celebrations of spring, people were able to celebrate both events under church law without fear of reprisal.