Keeping the fires burning – what to expect at the virtual Hearth Fire

In the lead up to Samhuinn Fire Festival, we’ll often talk about the difficult months ahead and the ways that we are steeling ourselves to face them. Up ahead lies the dark, the cold, the wind and the rain, and the trailing off of Summer’s outdoor parties. There’s a sense of loss, of leaving behind our unfettered togetherness as we begin to retreat indoors. 

This year, those messages feel especially poignant. We stand together on the edge of a more uncertain Winter than we have faced in several generations, and many of us are feeling fearful, or frustrated, or are grieving what once was. 

Yet, even in these uneasy times, we want to find the moments that give us comfort and joy at our digital Samhuinn celebration. The fires that we light will be a small beacon, like a hearth fire we can gather round in the home. 

Copyright Sean Bluestone for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. /

The hearth is a source of warmth and light when the night is drawing in outside, and a place we can gather with our loved ones to swap jokes and stories. It is also a marker of change. 

At ancient Samhuinn celebrations, also known as the Celtic New Year, revellers would put out all their hearth fires and relight them from one flame, the sacred Neid fire. It was a gesture of unity by communities, who were stronger together in the harsh Winter months than they were apart. 

Like them, we invite you to take a collective deep breath with us before we plunge into the unknown. We’ll sit around the virtual Hearth Fire, together even when we’re physically apart, and remind ourselves of the small things that can cheer us up when the cold creeps in – the tales, the laughs, the friends and the fires. 

What will Hearth Fire look like?

On Saturday 31st October from 7PM, we’ll broadcast a collection of performances, music, art, and acrobatics that replicate our traditional Samhuinn narrative for the digital realm. 

These pieces are being devised by our volunteers right now, who have assembled themselves into pods that each manifest one of the otherworldly creatures that would usually come to visit us on Calton Hill.

We also have a court – a Winter King, a Summer King, and the Cailleach – who will embody the central conflict between Summer and Winter, and the triumph of the wheel of the year’s turn over all. There are no favourites in the transition of the seasons, only the certainty that Winter must come, and then Summer, and then Winter again in their endless cycle. 

The story so far

When the Summer King first emerges from his slumber, he decides to celebrate the start of his reign with a magnificent feast – but nobody comes. The summertime feels strangely empty, with only trickles of revellers arriving here and there through the warm months. 

Now, too soon for his liking, the Summer King senses the beginnings of his demise. Soon he must draw his shortened season to a close and pass the mantle on to the Winter King.

Sensing his reluctance, our mysterious crone goddess the Cailleach arrives. She will walk the Summer King through his resistance, reminding him of his role in the wheel’s turn. Under her watchful gaze, Winter must be allowed to take up his crown.

But not everything has to be gloomy. The Winter King is keen to remind us of the good things about his season – the cosy hearths, the hot chocolates and the fireside stories. Summer’s revelries may be over for now, but Winter will keep the party going through the cold months in whatever ways he can, whether it’s through a live stream or a socially distanced campfire. Whatever it takes, he’ll keep the fires burning.

Copyright Gordon Veitch for Beltane Fire Society. All Rights Reserved. /

How do I watch Hearth Fire?

Hearth Fire will be broadcast on Facebook and YouTube on Saturday 31st October from 7PM. The end time is to be confirmed, but we expect the festival to last roughly two hours. 

We will embed the live YouTube video here on the main festival page, so you can watch on our website if you like. 

If you would like to watch on Facebook Live, join this Facebook event for updates – we will post the video link in the Discussion tab when we go live.

Segments from the festival will also be published on IGTV.

Samhuinn for the family

Every year, we host a special Family Samhuinn for kids and their parents looking for an alternative way to celebrate Halloween. We’re doing it again for this festival, only this time it will take place online in the days leading up to the night.

Details to follow, but keep an eye out on our social media channels for family-friendly activities that will help you and your wee ones get into the spirit of the Celtic New Year. 

Grown-ups are very welcome to take part too – there’s plenty of creative stuff being planned that everyone can get stuck into.

How much are tickets?

It’s completely free to access our online festival. All you need is an internet connection and access to social media or this website. What we are asking though is for those who are able to buy a pay-what-you-can ticket from Citizen Ticket.

Ordinarily our festival would host thousands of people on Calton Hill, which now means that it is incredibly uncertain when we will be able to hold our events again safely. Our organisation receives no public funds, and we are entirely funded by the tickets we sell at our festivals each year. Without our festivals, we don’t have any income. 

Thanks to your generous donations to BOnFire earlier this year, and to all of you who have come to our sellout festivals in the past, we’re surviving. But with no knowledge of when this crisis or the ban on large gatherings could end, we’ll need everything we’ve got to make our comeback when it’s safe to do so. 

If you have the means, please consider buying a pay-what-you-can ticket from Citizen Ticket. We have a suggested donation of £5 (+ booking fee), but you’re welcome to amend that amount to as much or as little as you can manage. To show our thanks, we’re pledging 10% of what we raise (up to £1,000) to a selection of environmental charities.

See you at the Celtic New Year

Thank you all. We hope that clears up how things are going to work on Samhuinn night. For now, sign up to the Facebook event, and we’ll see you in October.

Featured image by Gordon Veitch for Beltane Fire Society. All rights reserved.

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