This blog post was updated on April 1, 2020.
Half way to Halloween and itching for some good natured but kinda creepy fun? Well then, it’s high time you got into the spirit of Walpurgisnacht and welcome spring in an especially witchy way.
Walpurgi-what? Walpurgisnacht. Or Wapurgis Night in English … or even simply Witches’ Night as the date is also commonly known. Despite being an ancient festival, Walpurgis Night is a new one to me. So come with me for a quick look into the roots and reasons for this age old holiday.
Observed across a number of countries in Northern and Central Europe – namely Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Estonia – Walpuris Night occurs on the 30th of April, the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an 8th century English nun on mission in Germany who spoke out against witchcraft and founded a convent in Heidenheim, Germany and was canonized on the 1st of May in the year of 779. In German folklore, this occasion is believed also to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brochen, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe (thanks Wikipedia!). Since the feast day of St. Walpurga occurs during the same time as even older pagan celebrations from across much of Europe (a coincidence?), a hybrid holiday of Catholic ritual and pagan tradition developed over the centuries resulting in the largely secular excuse to dress up like a witch or something else spooky and hit the streets for a bit of pre May Day partying.
Among the most popular of contemporary observances of Walpurgis Night (or ‘Valborg’ as the date is called in Sweden) is in Gothenburg with giant bonfires, fireworks and lots of outdoor concerts. Across Finland, Walpurgis Night (or Vappu in Finnish) is considered to be one of the four biggest holidays of the year – after Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Midsummer – with street carnivals, picnics and lots of drinking. Thale, Germany near the Brochen Peak of alleged witchcraft, is home to one of the biggest Walpurgis events with a range of activities taking place at the village’s Hexentanzplatz (“Witch Dance Square”).
Photo via Flickr – Michael Panse