Walpurgisnacht, or the Night of the Walpurgis is a spirited festival celebrated in quite a few countries, particularly in central and northern Europe. It is a raucous celebration of all things mysterious and sinister, culminating in a whole night of lasciviousness.
Know what it’s all about!
The present version of the festival has become a celebration of all things dark and mysterious, particularly witches. Each year hundreds of people flock to Mount Brocken, Germany dressed in their ghoulish best, right from elaborate costumes to extensive make-up.
Walpurgisnacht is also known as the Night of the Witches. In the olden times, it was said that the witches converged atop the Mount Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, on the night of April 30 to celebrate and hold a huge celebration for the arrival of spring. The locals would fear this night and would spend it together, making loud noises, singing and dancing in an effort to scare the witches away.
But just as many festivals, the origin story here is also a little garbled. Another story, (without witches) is mainly followed in a few of the countries that celebrate the day as well. As a matter of fact, the festival is said to have been named after Saint Walburga, who was known for speaking out against witches and being quite instrumental in helping the local towns get ‘rid’ of them. In fact, she was canonized (which means being awarded sainthood posthumously) on May 1, 779! Celebration of her sainthood spread far and wide and people began to throw elaborate parties to pay their respects. Though its most famous celebrations are in Germany, it is interesting that these parties involve extremely loud and raucous celebrations. The extra noise and revelry was done to scare away sinister witches lurking in the shadows. And from here on, emerged the animated celebrations seen throughout Estonia, Germany, Sweden, Finland and many more countries.
What is another noticeable factor is its striking similarity to the much more widely celebrated Halloween. Surprisingly, Walpurgisnacht falls exactly six months from Halloween which makes us wonder if there is a connection we are missing out on. Both festivals are deeply rooted in pagan culture and celebrate the dark and twisted ways of life, in a rather contrasting manner.
Lighting fires is a huge part of the cultural roots of Walpurgisnatch. The bright fires work as community centers for the people to gather around and celebrate as well as working to ward off the evil spirits that lurk in the air. It is common to see people cheering as dark clouds of sudden smoke are seen drifting towards the sky, which are considered an embodiment of dark forces. Another addition has been people dressing up as witches and ghouls much like its cousin festival of Halloween.
All the different forms of the festival
So, to balance the morbin origin of the festival, the people make sure to engage in full blown revelries for the entirety of the two days. The festival has spread out a lot, geographically as well as culturally. Each place has their own unique addition to the celebrations but the basic idea of it remains the same i.e. party like there is no tomorrow.
In the Czech Republic, it’s a game of love for young men and women. As the night advances, young townsfolk set out to look for a cherry blossom tree, if one has not been found already. It is considered a good omen to kiss your beloved under one after midnight, so your love will last for another year at least.
A similar tradition is followed in Rhinesland, where a young man puts a branch covered with beautiful ribbons outside the door of a girl he fancies to let her know about his affections. The women make a similar move too, but only during leap years.
Finland pretty much goes all out when it comes to celebrating Walpurgisnacht, known as Vappu. It is held in great esteem like New Year’s, Christmas and Juhana, a midsummer festival. A carnival styled celebration, the two day event is cause for jubilation for the whole country. Typically celebrated widely by students, the revelries include a lot of sima, sparkling wine and various other alcoholic beverages.
Sweden has a different story for the celebration of Walpurgisnacht, with very little to do with religion and everything to with the coming of spring. In the Middle Ages, the administrative year ended on 30 April, thus the festival became all about the celebration for the merchants and traders with dancing, singing and trick or treating in anticipation of the bountiful spring. Locals decorate their houses and prepare delicious food to commemorate the event and start the season on a happy note.