Keltfacts: The Celts

On our brand new website for Keltfest, we would love to get you acquainted with the Celtic culture in our new series Keltfacts. But who are those Celts anyway?

The general stereotype of Celts is usually about red haired men who’re wearing a kilt, standing on top of a hill and wave their sword around (you’re thinking about Braveheart, aren’t you?). But the Celts are way more than that.

Celtic or Celt is an umbrella term that covers all tribes who used to populate large parts of what we now know as Europe. At their peak during the fourth century before Christ, Celts lived on the British isles, the Iberian Peninsula, Central Turkey and parts from France all the way to Romania. During this time, they formed a thread for the Romanian empire, but they never managed to conquer it. Because they consisted out of so many different tribes, it was hard to form a central administration.

Dark green shows the area where Celtic languages are still spoken up until today. Light green is the maximum Celtic expansion by the 270s before Christ. The early Celtic cultures in the Iron Age are shown by yellow. 

The Celtic languages

You probably heard of Irish and Welsh, but there are many more Celtic languages. All these languages descended from a common ancestor, the Proto-Celtic. During the culmination of the Celtic culture, Celtic languages were spoken across a large part of Europe. Today you will find Celtic languages only in small part of Europe. 
The languages may be divided into Insular-Celtic and Continental-Celtic. It probably won't surprise you that Insular-Celtic languages are mostly spoken on the British Islands, like Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish-Gaelic (Gàidhlig) and Welsh. But Breton (Brezhoneg) is part of the Insular-Celtic as well. Continental-Celtic consists of for example Gaulish and Celtiberian, these languages are all extinct.

The percentage of the population of which a Celtic language is their native tongue is very small. One of the Celtic nations, the Manx, consists of only 60.000 people. Most of them speak a Manx-English dialect. Only 2,2% of them, have Manx, the original tongue, as their native language. Another language is Cornish, Kernowek, the Celtic language originating in Cornwall. From the almost 600.000 person population, only an estimate of 300 people are still able to speak the language. In the eighteenth century it was declared extinct. However, in the twentieth century it was brought back to life.

The Celts: honouring nature

Most Celts used to be polytheistic, they believed in multiple gods. Next to that they worshipped rivers, mountains, heathers, trees and all other aspects of nature. Ancestors also played a big role during rituals and worship.

A Celtic community would have druids. These were the priests, judges and doctors all in one. They are the ones leading rituals like Yule or Samhain.

During Keltfest we celebrate Beltane. The annual festival which marks the beginning of summer.

At Keltfest we decorate a maypole to celebrate Beltane. The maypole is wrapped in ribbons and topped off with a flowercrown. Before this maypole ceremony starts, a May-king is chosen, who picks his queen. Next to that we will jump over fire: ready for the summer, a new start!
In a next Keltfacts blog we will dive more into this subject. 

Do you speak a bit of Gaeilge, Brezhoneg or Gàidhlig? Or would you like to learn it?

By Dewi van Zeggelaar

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