The medieval city of Prague is a beautiful thing. The almost fantastical buildings in its old center, and the eeriness of pointy Charles Bridge statues illuminated in dusk’s orange light, seem to give credence to its uber-popular Witches Night. Held on April 30th every year, Witches Night describes the festivities that stem from a long tradition of welcoming summer and banishing witches.
They’re not sure if the tradition comes from the Celts’ Beltane festival, which dates all the way back to the Iron Age, or if it comes from the Scandanavian and German Walpurgis Night, a celebration of Saint Walpurgis. In either case, the modern celebration is a remainder of ancient witchcraft banishing rituals that involved burning brooms and “witches” themselves.
Public celebration normally finds its way to Pet?ín Hill, where residents light one large fire. Of course, throughout the city private residents are celebrating in their way as well. It’s as much an excuse to drink and make merry as it is to dance around a fire in witches costumes. Traditionally, they throw an effigy of a witch onto the fire, simulating the real-life burning of suspected witches back in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Traditionally, men leave fresh branches in front of the doors of the women they’re courting. Today, the younger revelers jump over the fire in a veritable rite of passage, and everyone uses the time as an excuse to party. Tourists are welcome, as the expat community is especially well represented at the Pet?ín Hill festivities and everyone gets along wonderfully.
Booking a cheap hotel early is recommended since this event is one of the most popular on the tourist’s European circuit and for Prague. However, Witches Night is not exclusive to Prague, and in many of the surrounding communities visitors can find similar celebrations, which might make for a more memorable experience that crowded Prague. In either case, the night is one to remember.