Today’s post will divert from the recent reviews and trip tips and go into the Czech culture a little bit. April 30th and May 1st are traditionally significant dates here in the Czech Republic…and you’re about to find out why.
So, what’s the deal with April 30th? Well, it is the night of the burning of the witches., one of the oldest Czech traditions. The closest thing you can equate it to in the English speaking world is Halloween, I guess (even though we also have a version of Halloween in the fall, go figure). But take away the kids in cute Disney masks and add witches being burned at the stake. Quite literally, although not to worry – the witches are made of hay and twigs.
This night is an old pagan holiday that became ingrained into the Czech lifestyle. It’s the celebration of the beginning of spring (Maypoles sometimes make an appearance). The night between April 30th and May 1st has always been considered to be magical and there are many myths about it. People believed that on this night, witches would fly on their broomsticks to gather and perform rituals. And so to protect against these witches (ghosts and demons also), people would set fires on hills. Eventually, people added “witches” – the aforementioned puppets or broomsticks – on top of the fires to see the witches burn. During this night, people also took precautions to protect themselves, their fields and their cattle with special twigs and holy chalk.
Nowadays, the spiritual reasons for the holiday have long been (mostly) forgotten, save scary stories by the fire, but the tradition remains. While we no longer carry around holy items for protection, we still gather and make bonfires and “burn witches.”
After being gone on this day for quite a few years in a row, Pav and I decided to rediscover the holiday this year and go see a bonfire in a small Czech town. We arrived after the fire had been started (although we did see preparations earlier in the day) and watched. First of all, there were a lot more people than we anticipated. Second, it’s interesting how this night has evolved into something more resembling a music festival, rather than a pagan holiday. There were stands with beer and food, even a small stage with a folk band. It was a great gathering – what seemed like the entire town was there: little kids running around in witch costumes and with broomsticks, their parents drinking beer, teenagers pretending to be too cool to take part, yet sitting on the sidelines and the ever vigilant local firemen, watching to make sure nothing happens. Yet there were still aspects of the holiday that remained intact. And that’s what matters.
If you watch Gilmore Girls, this event would be right out of the Stars Hollow book and I believe even Taylor would approve. So what do you think? Would you want to come and witness this?