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BeltanePhoto: Jan Shepherd

And here is what Graham says:
Beltane is a spring festival that's traditionally celebrated on the first of May. In the UK there is a bank holiday on the first Monday of May, so there's usually a long weekend around Beltane. It can also be marked by the mid point of the sun's transit through Taurus, which can place it around the 8th of May. Often this weekend is marked by fairs which can be small and local or major events like the ‘Obby ‘Oss festival at Padstow in Cornwall, and the Sweeps Festival in Rochester, Kent. Both of these events have a national reputation and can attract tens of thousands of people. Regardless of size, these usually feature local stalls, Punch and Judy and there is always Morris Dancing.

This is a form of folk dancing that doesn't really exist outside England. It features traditional dances, with accordians, fiddles and drums.  At this time of year there is a central figure – sometimes a horse representation, often with a skull on a stick – the hobby horse that gives the Padstow celebration its name -  or a green man. This will be a figure covered in foliage and ribbons. In some cases they look like walking trees. Whatever the costume, these are all fertility figures and the folklore surrounding them usually involves local customs about girls being kissed or dancing with the green man to ensure they'd fall pregnant over the next year.

There might have been a custom of the young people going out into the woods overnight and then coming back through the community the next morning to bless the farms that they passed. It's hard to find any concrete evidence but this was possibly a night of indulgence for the unmarried youth of a community. It is worth remembering that the idea of chastity before marriage is relatively recent when compared to the length of time over which the Wheel has been celebrated.

Also, there appear to be faint echoes that all festivals had some form of procession through the area occupied by a tribe. Definite survivors are trick or treating, carol singing and beating the bounds.  

The link between Beltane and  Halloween is interesting, because Beltane is exactly opposite Halloween on the Wheel of the Year. Beltane is about fertility and sex, whereas (on a basic level) Halloween is about death. These are two sides of the same coin and are both concerned with the basic physicality and cycle of life.

This is also one festival that hasn't been adopted or changed much by Christianity, probably because at a high theological level, Christianity sees the spirit as divorced from the physical world and trying to rise above it. Paganism on the other hand seeks to synthesise the two opposites of spirit and physicality. This is especially obvious at this festival with its carnal overtones.

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