April 30th is an exciting day for Czechs of all ages who gather by fire and celebrate the arrival of spring. Witch burning (Čarodejnice), also known as the night of the witches, stems from an ancient tradition.
There are many locations where this is celebrated and some involve a maypole: a tall wooden pole popular to dance around at various traditional European festivals. Outside of folk customs witch-burning night is also the second-largest satanic holiday.
While it acts as the largest Sabbath for Satanic cults, in the Czech Republic it’s considered a regular and harmless family holiday.
Historically, the night of April 30th has been considered magical and was originally celebrated at midnight. Like most ancient festivities, the main purpose of the event was to celebrate fertility.
People also believed that on this night witches would gather together. To protect themselves from the witches, evil spirits, and demons in general, people lit fires on elevated grounds.
Originally the fires were supposed to ward off everything evil, but after the Spanish Inquisition, it became specifically about burning the evil witches.
Brooms that were considered unlucky would be burned and the ashes were believed to have special powers to increase the number of crops that year. The ashes had another important purpose: ensuring fertility. Jumping over the smoldering embers ensured fertility and youth for those brave enough to jump.
Today people mainly burn rags and straw witches on the bonfires. The celebration is no longer about fertility but about saying goodbye to winter. Children enjoy watching funny performances of battling men and witches in costume while adults enjoy live music, roasted sausages, and beer.
A similar holiday is celebrated in many European countries from Ireland and Finland to Poland – however, every country has a different name for it. In the Czech Republic, the holiday precedes May 1st, the annual festival of love. It is one of the first large outdoor events of the year and Ladronka and Žluté lázně are two of the most popular spots to celebrate in Prague.