So now Easter has passed, the whipping has ended, and now we are ready to burn some witches! No, we’re not a violent country at all… Another pagan tradition is The Burning of the Witches Night (Čarodějnice). Every year, on April 30th, Czechs gather around bonfires across the country in order to give a final farewell to the long winter. This is one of many of this country’s colorful traditions.
The origin of this festival is not clear but there is a theory that it descended from Belatne, a traditional holiday still celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In the Middle Ages, people believed that the evil spirits were stronger than normal on this night, so they performed rites and customs in order to ward off witches and weaken their power. The Czechs believed that burning great fires, the flames would reach the witches down from the sky.
This custom survived the period of communism when it was tolerated by the regime. These days it is more of a celebration and an opportunity to get together with family and friends. The bonfires are built a few days before and usually are up on a hill.
Today, kids make witches from straw to throw in the fire at the end of the night. People are also known to throw their old brooms into the fire. Another tradition, probably a fertility rite, involves young couples jumping over the bonfires together over the dying flames, while single men leave freshly cut branches on the doorstep of the woman they love.
There are many places you can attend this colorful tradition. Here are some of the bigger locations:
Kampa Park – The children’s program begins at 19:00 with a costumed parade from Malostranské náměstí to the park. The bonfire begins at 20:00.
Ladronka – By far one of the biggest celebrations, and you can find many family-friendly activities there. The celebration starts at 15:00 and features a Miss Čarodějnice contest, theater performance, a fire show, and live music. The bonfire will start at 18:30. You can check out this video from the 2009 event.
Petřín Hill – This is more unofficial but people gather for bonfires on this hill overlooking Prague.
No reason to skip out on this event this year, so get your witch costume ready for the upcoming festivities. Czechs will always find a reason to party!
PS: Don’t worry, the fire department across the country is very alert on this day.