Where does the name come from? What the night of May 1st is all about

In the night from April 30th to May 1st the witches are loose – Walpurgis Night is coming up. The custom, also known as “witch burning”, is primarily at home in northern and central Europe. Walpurgis Night was once celebrated as a superstitious ritual. Today, on the other hand, various customs and celebrations are in the foreground, which are intended to herald the transition from spring to summer.

In Germany, the term “Tanz in den Mai” has become established. In many places, events are held around Walpurgis Night, and traditional May bonfires are lit in rural areas. But where does the custom come from?

History of Walpurgis Night

The roots of the tradition, first mentioned in the Middle Ages as Walpurgis Night, can be found in pre-Christian times. It is said to have originally been a pagan spring festival with which the Germans celebrated the end of winter. Even today, many customs of Walpurgis Night are closely linked to celebrations of the warmer season.

Only in the course of Christianization did the pagan festival acquire religious significance. The name Walpurgisnacht goes back to Saint Walburga, an abbess who lived in England in the eighth century. In the Catholic and Protestant churches, her memorial day falls on February 25. The connection to Walpurgis Night on May 1st goes back to your canonization on that day.

Customs for Walpurgis Night

As one of four dates of the so-called Witches’ Sabbath, Walpurgis Night was part of the tradition of early modern witchcraft teaching and persecution. According to legend, witches gathered on the Blocksberg (Brocken) in the Harz Mountains on the night of May 1st to celebrate a festival and have fun with the devil.

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In an allusion to this witches’ night, large campfires, so-called witches’ or May fires, were kindled on April 30 to drive away evil spirits. The custom of having fun singing and dancing around the fire has survived on Walpurgis Night in a modified form.

However, many of the modern May Day customs have their roots in other traditions that are not necessarily directly related to Witches’ Night. These include spring customs such as putting up maypoles or corn singing, where children go around the houses and ask for sweets.

The Maibowle, a mixture of wine and woodruff, is also part of the tradition of the spring festival.

Dance into May

One of the most popular modern customs, however, is the dance into May. Germany’s largest public events related to Walpurgis Night still take place in the Harz today. The original popular belief is taken up; many visitors dress up as witches or devils and party late into the night.

Traditionally, the dance into May is celebrated especially in rural areas. At the same time, the festivities are increasingly shifting to the city’s nightlife, where parties, concerts and other themed events take place from April 30th to May 1st.

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