Welcome to Walpurgis Night

Tonight there are Walpurgis Night celebrations throughout Germany, or at least in our area. I knew about May Day and that it was a big celebration, but had never heard of Walpurgis Night.waldpurgisnacht_2018_600px

Looking at the poster I thought it might be something akin to Fastnacht, which is held in February (and yes, I know I promised to write about that – soon I hope). The poster for the event looked mildly satanic to me, with a suggestion of smoke and fire and  the young woman emulating a vampire. Or maybe my perception of the area is coloured by what I know of its history.

Turns out I was half right. Walpurgis Night does have something to do with witches, but it isn’t a celebration of them (or at least is not supposed to be). I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining:

Walpurgis Night, an abbreviation of Saint Walpurgis Night (from the German Sankt Walpurgisnacht [saŋkt valˈpʊʁɡɪsˌnaχt]), also known as Saint Walpurga’s Eve (alternatively spelled Saint Walburga’s Eve), is the eve of Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia, and is celebrated on night of 30 April and the day of 1 May.

This feast commemorates the canonization of Saint Walpurga and the movement of her relics to Eichstätt, both of which occurred on 1 May in the year 870.

Saint Walpurga was hailed by the Christians of Germany for battling “pest, rabies and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft.” In Germanic folklore, Hexennacht (Dutch: heksennacht), literally “Witches’ Night”, was believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe. Christians prayed to God through the intercession of Saint Walpurga in order to protect themselves from witchcraft, as Saint Walpurga was successful in converting the local populace to Christianity. In parts of Christendom, people continue to light bonfires on Saint Walpurga’s Eve in order to ward off evil spirits and witches. Others have historically made Christian pilgrimages to Saint Walburga’s tomb in Eichstätt on the Feast of Saint Walburga, often obtaining vials of Saint Walburga’s oil.

Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia. In Denmark, the tradition with bonfires to ward off the witches is observed as Saint John’s Eve.

I’d never heard of St. Walpurga before. Not surprising, there are a lot of saints and I probably haven’t heard of most of them. After all, she was a rather obscure eighth century Englishwoman. I suspect most people celebrating have never heard of her either – it is just an excuse for a party, one I won’t be going to. That’s not only because I don’t usually attend events with DJs unless I am the one spinning the tunes, but also because I will be away from Sulzburg tonight. A business trip means not only will I miss Walpurgis Night, I will also miss Maihock (May Day) tomorrow. That I am told is a really big deal. Maybe I’ll get to experience that next year.

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