Beltane good way to mark the coming of winter days

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THE arrival of winter, bringing with it long dark nights and plunging temperatures, might not seem something to celebrate.

But that is exactly what a colourful parade of dancers, jesters, wolves and other creatures will be doing in the capital on Saturday.

Thousands of people are expected to flock to the annual Samhuinn Festival, which celebrates the Celtic New Year, the death of summer and the arrival of winter.

A procession will begin from the Castle at 9pm on Saturday, with the Summer King and Winter King parading along the Lawn Market to West Parliament Square, before a dramatic battle between the two Kings commences on stage outside St Giles' Cathedral.

The Summer King will be supported by colourful and cheerful dancers, musicians and acrobats, dressed in bright yellows and greens to represent the freshness of summer, while the Winter King will have the support of the wild hunt – the dark forces who will overwhelm the Summer King – in the reenactment of the ancient Goloshan Play.

Drummers, hunters and stilt-walkers dressed as crows and wolves, among other predatory animals, will assist the Winter King during the battle of wooden sticks, while fire performers from both sides also take part in the battle.

The Cailleach, who embodies the Winter aspect, will wear a cloak throughout the procession, before an exciting unveiling at the end of the spectacle.

The event, which features a 150-strong cast, is organised by the Beltane Fire Society, who also hold celebrations on Calton Hill to mark the arrival of Spring.

Society spokeswoman Padmini Ray Murray said: "At the heart of Samhuinn is the battle between dark and light, and winter and summer. The story is the same from year to year and we know that Winter wins the battle, but there are different spins put on the narrative every year.

"We are excited with the narrative this year, and everyone is really looking forward to it. This year we will have some interesting pyrotechnics in the fight, which will be quite spectacular. The face-off will be exciting."

The festival is believed to be based on pagan celebrations which predate the Celtic culture. As well as the passing of seasons, it marks the night of the dead, when spirits of the departed pay their last visit to earth.

Many visitors are expected to turn out in fancy dress, and are encouraged to either line up along the Royal Mile before the procession starts, or gather at the stage to watch the performance.

The annual event, which is free of charge, started in 1995. The procession will take around an hour and the stage performance approximately 30 minutes.

The performance will be finished by 11pm.