Bonfires, broomsticks and barbecues: Czechs mark Witches’ Night

April 30 is Čarodějnice, or Witches’ Night. In the past, this date was believed to bring the arrival of spring. People would gather to burn bonfires in order to dispel evil spirits. Nowadays, the celebration is still popular among Czechs, and the organizers of Prague’s biggest witches’ night celebration at Ladronka park are getting ready for a night full of magic and fire.

In medieval times, one of the year’s biggest festivities fell on the last night of April. This major pagan celebration is known under many names in modern Czech. They include Valpuržina noc, after Saint Walburga – the first of May was the day of her canonization – and Beltine, from the Celtic word for the celebration, Beltain.

In the early Middle Ages, people gathered on the night from April 30 to May 1 and lit bon fires, which they believed would dispel evil demons and spirits. During the witch trials in the 16th and 17th centuries, April 30 was believed to be a sinister day on which witches burned Christian symbols and worshipped Satan. And that’s why the celebration is often referred to by Czechs as Čarodějnice, or witches’ night.

To symbolically avert the danger of witches, people would throw wooden brooms onto the fire. Nowadays, Czechs still observe the age-old rite. Some people light their own bonfire and burn a wooden mock-witch, while public bonfire celebrations are also held throughout the country. One of them is the Čarodějnice event at Prague’s Ladronka park.

Lucie Šplíchalová, one of the organizers, was busy preparing for the Ladronka Čarodějnice when I caught up with her on Friday.

“This is the biggest celebration in Prague, last year we had 11,000 visitors, and we think this is even the biggest ceremony in Central Europe as well.”

“I think people like it because it’s a celebration of spring. People like to celebrate and get together outside, with a fire, have a barbecue and make a party with their friends.”

The Čarodějnice event at Ladronka park is organized by the Prague 6 district. Aside from the actual witch burning, visitors can enjoy a wide range of entertainment.

Ladronka park,  photo:
“There is a cultural program, sports, concerts, puppet performances, dance companies like Karamelky and Primavera will perform their dancing performance, and in the evening there will be an unconventional fire show, and the burning of the witch is a big ceremony, all the organizers will be there and people can grill their sausages on the bonfire later.”

The event is especially popular with children. Little girls can visit what’s called the “ugliness salon” to receive a make-over appropriate for the Miss Witch competition and various crafts workshops will be held as well.