City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

First Samhuinn Fire Festival On Calton Hill Bigger Than Beltane


By edg - Posted on 01 November 2018

Samhuinn Performers by Vince Graham (Beltane Fire Society)

To hypnotic drum beats, punctuated with guttural roars, a small army of pagan-esque performers staged a fiery, Hallowe’en night show on Calton Hill to mark the onset of Winter last night.

The Beltane Fire Society said over 4,000 people gathered in Edinburgh’s city centre for last night's Samhuinn Fire Festival, which was held on Calton hill for the first time.

This year was the largest Samhuinn production in Beltane Fire Society’s history, with nearly 20 performance groups and almost 400 volunteers taking part.

What has typically been seen as the community’s smaller Winter festival this year grew to be larger than its flagship event, Beltane Fire Festival, which usually has around 300 performers.

Revived in 1995, Samhuinn has in previous years taken place as a free, unticketed event on the Royal Mile with a procession from Edinburgh Castle Esplanade to stages outside the Fringe office. However, with numbers reaching up to 5,000 last year, organisers sought a new venue for the event.

This year’s Samhuinn event was transformed into an “immersive experience”, where audiences choose their own route through the story happening simultaneously all over the arena.

The festival’s participants played the parts of Winter and Summer’s forces, who woke up at the same time in the North and the South of the hill and battled it out in a dramatic reenactment of the struggle between the seasons.

The festival marks the onset of Winter by depicting a battle between the Summer King and the Winter King, which is overseen by the Cailleach, a goddess figure from folklore around the British Isles.

Over the years, hundreds of volunteers have constructed a contemporary myth from their own interpretations of the story. Some groups this year were inspired by overseas folk traditions, including from Denmark and Japanese anime, adding a contemporary storytelling edge to the Celtic traditions being kept alive.

Erin Macdonald, chair of Beltane Fire Society described the culmination of weeks of preparations as “truly magical”.

“It’s been wonderful watching our volunteers re-imagine what our Winter festival could look like, and seeing it come to life on Calton Hill last night after so much hard work and creativity was inspiring. Enormous thanks go out to our volunteers, who gave their all to a real passion-project, and to our audience who always help create that special atmosphere on the night,” said Macdonald.

This was the first year that Samhuinn has been a ticketed event with regular tickets costing £6. Beltane Fire Festival also sold 500 discount tickets at £2 this year to help make their events more accessible to low-income households.

Low-income tickets sold out days before the event and all tickets were sold out the day before the event.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival is one of several fiery events taking place around Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night in Edinburgh.