On the evening of April 30th, Czechs gather to build a bonfire and prepare an effigy of the witch that kept winter around so long.
While some locals call it the night of burning witches, the tradition actually has nothing to do with the persecution of witches.
Čarodějnice (Burning of Witches) or Filipojakubská noc (Philip and Jacob’s Night) is celebrated as a symbolic night of ritual cleansing, with the purpose of warding off evil spirits.
This year; however, because of government measures related to the coronavirus, official events will not be able to take place.
Firefighters have also been urged to be on alert, as incidents with fires at home are much more common than huge collective bonfires.
Even so, people do craft makeshift figures of witches from hay and other material and burn them, but perhaps this detail has just effortlessly integrated with the custom. It does make it more interesting to witness.
Czech ancestors believed that it was on this very day that the path to this world opened up to dark forces at dusk. It is quite a bewildering notion, but the forces are supposedly extinguished and banished by the power and the light of the burning flames.
However, this mystical custom was not always accepted and welcomed. In the mid-19th century, Filipojakubska night was actually prohibited from being celebrated, as it was regarded as a mere superstition.
The Nazis and the Communists did not like this tradition either, the former viewing the bonfires as a potential ‘guide’ for enemy aircraft, while the latter tried to rename it as ‘bonfires of peace’.
So, what exactly takes place during this curious event? Annually, thousands and thousands of fires are burnt on this day in the Czech Republic, where entire villages often meet.
A similar holiday is celebrated in many European countries from Ireland and Finland to Poland – however, every country has a different name for it.