On Monday I wrote about Prague hosting a science conference where people played music with their brains. Today is another big day in the Czech Republic, but this one has roots much, much further in the past. Today, like April 30 every year, is Witches’ Night.
Witches’ Night (Pálení čarodějnic in Czech) is sort of a cross between the First Day of Spring and Halloween. In practice, it’s not much more than an excuse for people to get together in the outdoors after a long winter and celebrate. And burn a fake witch on a bonfire. Sort of morbid, yes, but it’s all in good fun.
Like many weird pagan rituals around the world, Witches’ Night has murky origins. The most commonly accepted story is that it’s a sort of hodge-podge of customs, descended from as far back as the Iron Age. Many align the festival with Beltane, an ancient holiday still celebrated on April 30 in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. People also link Witches’ Night to another April 30 holiday, the German and Scandivanian Walpurgis Night. And the name itself (Witches’ Night) probably comes from the witch trials that took place in these parts in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Whatever the origins, it’s yet another example of a European tradition that brings folks together in merriment and appreciation of something or other (in this case, the onset of spring). Just in time for May Day.