Strangers came closer, danced to our music and stopped being strangers

Beltane 2016

I rarely start blog posts here with “I”. My name is Tanya and I’m Online Communications Coordinator for Beltane Fire Society, which is a fancy way of saying I look after the Society’s online presence, write lots of things and do the live Tweeting and Facebooking from our events. I’m kind of an invisible entity most of the time because what I do isn’t about me. It’s about volunteers and festivals and audiences. It’s about you. It’s about sharing other people’s pictures and stories and I wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s why I do what I do, why I started doing it in the first place and why I can’t imagine anything in the world I would rather be doing.

I also take part in festivals (thirteen to date!) and have found community, friendship, family and home in BFS. With the blessing of Trustees Tom and Lila, who agreed it was fine for me to step out of my cloak of invisibility, this time I’ll start a blog post with “I” because this time it is my story.

I could write about the fire festival itself, but that seems too obvious and I haven’t managed to corral the right words yet. I might not ever. I don’t know that there are the right words, but on the first Saturday after Beltane there is the traditional picnic. Traditional in that it’s always just happened at the same time every year and now everyone has come to expect it so we all show up and it continues. We get to unwind together after The Night is over and enjoy the beginning of a summer that we kind of not really but sort of do like to believe we had a hand in instigating.

I was curled up in a gigantic pile of blankets, my head resting against a friend’s back, a bag of watercolour paints and home-brew mead at the edge of my field of vision. It was wind-chill cold but the sun was there.

There was a table near me because this year a few people suddenly had the idea of bringing a table. It had been carried across town on a bus then across the park on someone’s head and it held, among other things, a hand-cranked ice-crushing device. People with smudges of green paint on their faces and polymer clay horns on tweed flatcaps served cocktails from tea pots into biodegradable corn starch cups.

Because we’re good at sharing and tend toward generosity, more and more people arrived with food. Something for yourself and something to give. There was vegan gluten free bannock and a huge metal pot filled with freshly made vegetable soup that had been carried through town. There would have been too much cake if “too much cake” was a thing that existed.

There were drums and people playing them, sometimes improvising and sometimes playing rhythms that are unique to us, beats that others might recognise but that we know somewhere deep down in the pit of our collective soul. Other people were spinning fire, juggling, climbing on each other’s shoulders. More were curled up together on a messy patchwork of fabric and grass, passing bottles back and forth, boxes and packets of food around overlapping circles.

Strangers came closer, danced to our music and stopped being strangers. I woke up this morning with glitter still in my hair. This is what happens. This is how you find yourself. This is how you get here. This is why you stay.

The photo at the top is the first picture from my live coverage of Beltane 2016, taken when there were only a few cast and crew members on Calton Hill, in a quiet and beautiful moment of potential.

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