Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
May 1st, 2016
Episode 511 of 848 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 1, 2016 is: Beltane \BEL-tayn\ noun : the Celtic May Day festival Examples: Although Beltane celebrates the approach of summer, those attending the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, are warned to dress for the cool weather that is typical of early spring there. "It's believed that when the goddess wakes from a long winter's sleep in March, she thaws the Earth and starts its life cycle anew. This rebirth, so to speak, is what sets the stage for the Pagan holiday Beltane, a fertility festival that occurs one month later." — Sara Coughlin, Refinery29 (refinery29.com), 18 Mar. 2016 Did you know? To the ancient Celts, May Day was a critical time when the boundaries between the human and supernatural worlds were removed and people needed to take special measures to protect themselves against enchantments. The Beltane fire festival originated in a spring ritual in which cattle were herded between two huge bonfires to protect them from evil and disease. The earliest known mention of Beltane (formerly spelled beltene, belltaine, and beltine) is in an Old Irish dictionary commonly attributed to Cormac, a king and bishop who lived in Cashel, Ireland, toward the end of the first millennium. The Beltane spelling entered English in the 15th century by way of Scottish Gaelic.