No, this isn’t some sort of ritualistic hunting – but a fun way to say good-bye to winter and hello to spring. Traditionally in the Czech lands, this custom with pagan roots takes place on the night from April 30-May 1.
Historically, people believed witched gathered together on this day in caves and other underground caverns to release treasure. To protect against this evil, people built bonfires which gradually developed into “witch burnings” (actually people burned broomsticks.) The ashes from these fires were said to have magical powers and were used to fertilize crops. Cattle were also walked through the ashes to assist with fertility.
Today, Witch’s Night is more of an excuse to have a fire and hang out with friends. They are more popular in smaller towns and villages where people will gather round the fire, sing songs and burn an effigy of a witch. Now the custom is more symbolic of the end of winter, purification and new beginnings.
In Prague, Kampa Island often does a witch burning, but for a fun afternoon, especially with kids, head up to Ladronka. Fun for adults and kids alike begins at 3pm on April 30. Music, sports, artistic and other recreational activities will be on offer, including puppet making workshops, dance pieces, a bike exhibition, and of course a huge bonfire with burning witches. For more information (Czech only) see here.
Photo courtesy of Carodejnice na Ladronce