Burning witches is a tradition celebrated at night from the 30th of April to the 1st of May. We call this night „Filipojakubská night“ as well. What do the Czechs do? And who is a witch?
People have been celebrating the night from the 30th of April to the 1st of May for a long time. They thought it was a magical night. It´s in the middle between the spring equinox and summer solstice. The Celts called it Beltain, they celebrated spring. In Germany and Scandinavian countries, they call it Valpurga´s night. People lighted fires to drive witches – a symbol of evil – away. Witches were women „collaborating“ with the devil. Fires were burnt behind the villages, their smoke should have to keep witches and all bad things
far from the houses. People often made a dummy and burnt it in effigy.
Christian Church didn´t want people to practice pagan rituals. That´s why it replaced witches with Christian symbols and it gave the night a new name: Filipojakubská (Phillip-Jacob) night. But it still means the end of evil power and the beginning of a new life, good power, the sunny and light part of the year starts.
This custom came to Czechia from Germany. People lighted fires. The ash from them had a big power: people gave it to the fields to have a good harvest. Cattle that went through the ash stayed healthy. And so did people who jumped over the fire. Legends say this night caves open and we can find a treasure there.
- The tradition of burning witches in a short video (source: Česká televize).
The 1st May is the second day and „májka“ is built in villages. People cleaned their houses and put twigs on windows as protection against the evil power.
The Czechs still light fires on the 30th April in the evening The main reason is to meet your family, friends, neighbors…) and have fun. Sometimes people have fancy dresses and the party looks like a carnival.
Have a look at how people in the different places in Czechia celebrate burning witches (video – source: Česká televize).
Try a short “witch quiz“
on how you know Czech holidays and traditions.
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The e-book Czech for rainy days is just for you to learn new words and improve your Czech.
20th April 2021