Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated today by Christian as well as non-Christian communities, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Early Christianity had a policy of ‘Christianising’ pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga’s day was set to May 1. Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various pagan spring customs. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were then widely believed to walk among the living. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day, although bonfires and witches are more closely associated with Easter (especially in Ostrobothnia, Finland) and bonfires alone with midsummer in the rest of Finland.
In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of April 30 and into the early hours of May 1, where May 1 is a public holiday called “Spring Day” (Kevadpüha). Volbriöö is an important and widespread celebration of the arrival of Spring in the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.
In Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, along with New Year’s Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festival held in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the 25mg cardizem buy
evening of April 30 and continues to May 1, typically centres on copious consumption of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of “Vappu”. Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many graduates from lukio, and thus traditionally assumed as university students or alumni, wear a cap. The cap of the engineering students is distinguished by a pom-pom hanging from it. One tradition is to drink sima, a home-made mead, along with freshly cooked doughnuts.
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring.In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called “Easter fires”. In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks such as tampering with neighbours’ gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury. One of the best places to celebrate Walpurgisnacht is the town of Thale, where not-so-pagan hordes of 35,000 or more arrive for colourful variety events and the Walpurgishalle museum tells you all you need to know about sacrifices, rituals and local myths. People dress as witches and toss away all reserve as they dance around fires.
In Sweden, Walpurgis Night (Swedish: Valborgsmässoafton or simply Valborg) has become a public holiday. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough writes that “The first of May is a great popular festival in the more midland and southern parts of Sweden. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flints together, blaze on all the hills and knolls”. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which may have begun in Uppland during the 18th century: “At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze, and ever since the early 18th century bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators”. In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practised, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight: these were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs. Singing traditional songs of Spring is widespread throughout the country. In Uppsala students also go rafting in Fyrisån on home-made and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold “Champagne Races” where students go to drink and spray champagne or sparkling wine on each other. The largest celebration is in Stockholm’s Skansen open-air museum, where a festive concert runs from mid-afternoon to around midnight. In Gothenburg, students from the Chalmers University have for the last century conducted the Cortège parade, with floats showing mock scenes from major events over the past year. More than 200,000 people line the streets to view the parade.
April 30 is “pálení čarodějnic” (“burning of the witches”) or “čarodějnice” in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end, by the burning of rag and straw witches or just broomsticks on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire.