Walpurgis Night traditions around Europe

Soon after Easter comes the ancient festival of Walpurgis Night. This less-known celebration falls on April 30, exactly six months after Halloween. People light bonfires to scare away witches and evil spirits. To the Vikings, Walpurgis Night marked the date they let their cows and goats onto the summer pastures. And many countries in the area celebrate Labor Day on May 1, complete with parades and, in the past, even riots.

 

What does Walpurgis Night celebrate?

Walpurgis Night was first a pagan festival linked with the coming of spring. In the 17th century, Germans added the belief that witches gather on the Brocken mountain on this date. Walpurgis Night is also the night before International Workers’ Day (a.k.a. May Day). The celebrations of spring tie in perfectly to celebrations of workers’ rights. And so does the drinking! Not so long ago, Berlin was quite a chaotic scene on May Day.

 

Who is Walpurgis Night named for?

Valborg was a nun in the 8th century (her name can also be spelled Walpurgis). She founded a convent in Germany and spoke out against witchcraft. Walpurgis was canonized on May 1, 779. The celebration of her sainthood merged with the spring festival over the years.

 

A Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden.

Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by acb

 

How do people celebrate Walpurgis Night?

One common tradition is a bonfire. You can see bonfires in Sweden, Finland, Germany and more countries. Another tradition is to make loud noises to scare spirits away, similar to the New Year’s traditions too. The Czech name for Walpurgis Night has to do with burning witches and broomsticks are burned on the bonfires there! Meanwhile in Sweden, the bonfires were lit to protect the Vikings’ livestock, who they let out to graze on summer pastures on May 1.

In Finland, people have picnics and drink homemade mead.

Germans often leave out a piece of bread spread with butter and honey called an Ankenschnitt. This is left outside for the phantom hounds and in order to protect people from bad weather or bad harvests.

 

A train decorated for Walpurgis Night

A train decorated for Walpurgis Night in 1990. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by Sludge G

 

For more information about Walpurgis Night, check out some of these helpful pages: The Weekly Rot and about.com.

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