Czechs celebrate ‘Čarodějnice’ – an annual witch-burning festival

Photo: CTK

April 30 is ‘Čarodějnice’ in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end. How? By the burning of rag and straw witches on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire, and for some, there’s even the chance to dress up.

Photo: CTK
Dancers hop and skip about to welcome in spring at Ladronka park in Prague 6. Wednesday’s ‘Čarodějnice’ or witch-burning is an annual event in this country, which is said to put a definitive end to winter. On Wednesday, the weather was suitably sunny, and hundreds of children and parents turned out to take part in the festivities.

A lot of those present were dressed as witches and ghouls. I asked organizer Monika Babišová if Čarodějnice was something like Halloween back in Britain:

Photo: CTK
“Yes, we can say that this is a bit like Halloween in Britain or America. This is a Czech tradition which takes place at the end of April every year – so that means April 30. And it’s quite a big thing, everyone, especially towards evening time, makes a fire and celebrates, drinks, dances close to the fire, and stuff like that.”

People cooking sausages over an open fire, and washing them down, age depending, with fizzy drinks or beer.

There was an impressive turn-out at Wednesday’s witch-burning fest, but organizer Monika Babišová insists that Čarodějnice is a tradition that’s disappearing fast:

Photo: CTK
“Actually I don’t know how long this has been going on for, but it’s really, really old, and I think these days, people don’t celebrate this tradition so much. It’s a shame, because we have many Czech traditions, including this burning of the witches, which younger generations know less and less about. So, it’s good when the city organizes an event like this for children, as well as for adults. Everyone is happy.”

Photo: CTK
Over the other side of the park, this man was handing out free broomsticks, I asked him why:

“It is to make people into witches. We are trying to break the record for the highest number of witches gathered in one place. We need around 750 witches to break the record.”

And what qualifies you to be a witch, what do you have to do to be registered as a witch here?

“You need this stick, and this cape.”

I was maybe a little too old to take part in the record attempt, but enough of my younger counterparts did, and a new Czech record was set. Some 934 witches turned out at Ladronka in the end, which made for quite a devilish sight. With the festivities at Ladronka only forming one small fraction of the Čarodějnice celebrations taking place around the country, this age-old Czech tradition of witch-burning looks to be far from fizzling out.