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Walpurgis Night

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional spring festival on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. It is often celebrated with dancing and with bonfires. It is exactly six months from All Hallows' Eve.



Title illustration of Praetorius' Blocksbergs Verrichtung (1668) The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after the English missionary Saint Walburga (ca. 710 777/9). As Walburga was canonized on 1st of May (ca. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars.[1][2] The eve of May day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurgisnacht ("Walpurga's night"). The name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsm ssoafton in Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbri , (Walpurgi ) in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpur u nakts or Valpur i in Latvian, arod jnice or Valpur ina noc in Czech, ch dotypalenje Lower Sorbian and chodojtypalenje in Upper Sorbian.

The German term is recorded in 1668 by Johannes Praetorius[3] as S. Walpurgis Nacht or S. Walpurgis Abend. An earlier mention of Walpurgis and S. Walpurgis Abend is in the 1603 edition of the Calendarium perpetuum of Johann Coler,[4] who also refers to the following day, 1 May, as Jacobi Philippi, feast day of the apostles James the Less and Philip in the Catholic calendar.

The 17th century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day is influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th and 16th century literature.

Czech Republic

30 April is p len arod jnic ("burning of the witches") or arod jnice in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end by the burning of rag and straw witches or just broomsticks on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire.


In Estonia, Volbri is celebrated throughout the night of 30 April and into the early hours of 1 May, where 1 May is a public holiday called "Spring Day" (Kevadp ha). Volbri is an important and widespread celebration of the arrival of spring in the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

The Volbri celebrations are especially vigorous in Tartu, the university town in southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional procession through the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting each others' corporation houses throughout the night.


In Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, along with New Year's Eve and Midsummer (Juhannus), the biggest carnival-style festival held in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centres on copious consumption of sima, sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many graduates from lukio, and thus traditionally assumed as university students or alumni, wear a cap. Most people think the caps of the engineering students are distinguished by pom-poms hanging from them; however, nurses and some other vocational school graduates also have caps with pom-poms. One tradition is to drink sima, a home-made low-alcohol mead, along with freshly cooked funnel cakes.

In the capital Helsinki and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping (on 30 April at 6 pm) of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called py and Julkku, by engineering students of Aalto University School of Science and Technology. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, py is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an py printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often, the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages, such as sardine cans and milk cartons. For most university students, Vappu starts a week before the day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on 1 May, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanm ki and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population in Helsinki city.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include political activists: other institutions, such as the church, have followed suit, marching and making speeches. Left-wing activists who were active in the 1970s still party on May Day. They arrange carnivals, and radio stations play leftist songs from the 1970s.

People at a Vappu picnic in Kaivopuisto in 2008 Traditionally, 1 May is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto or Kaisaniemi in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white tablecloths, silver candelabras, classical music and extravagant food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, where some of the previous night's party-goers continue their celebrations undaunted by lack of sleep.

Some student organisations reserve areas where they traditionally camp every year. Student caps, mead, streamers and balloons have their role in the picnic, as well as in the celebration as a whole.

Vappu/Valborg and Midsummer are Finland's two main holidays in the summer half of the year, on a par with Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in the winter half.


In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from 30 April to 1 May, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Brocken and await the arrival of spring.

A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht". The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is also called "Walpurgisnacht". In Edward Albee's 1962 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Act Two is entitled "Walpurgisnacht".

From Bram Stoker's short story, "Dracula's Guest", an Englishman (whose name is never mentioned but is presumed to be Jonathan Harker) is on a visit to Munich before leaving for Transylvania. It is Walpurgis Night, and in spite of the hotelier's warning not to be late coming back, the young man later leaves his carriage and wanders toward the direction of an abandoned "unholy" village. As the carriage departs with the frightened and superstitious driver, a tall and thin stranger scares the horses at the crest of a hill.

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires".

In rural parts of southern Germany, it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks such as tampering with neighbours' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property.

In Berlin, traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg, though in both cases, the situation has significantly calmed down in the past few years.


Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden
Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden
A large crowd, mostly students in typical Swedish white student caps, participating in the traditional Walpurgis Night celebration with song outside the Castle in Uppsala. The silhouette of the cathedral towers may be seen in the background. To the right are banners and standards of the student nations. Image from c. 1920.
A large crowd, mostly students in typical Swedish white student caps, participating in the traditional Walpurgis Night celebration with song outside the Castle in Uppsala. The silhouette of the cathedral towers may be seen in the background. To the right are banners and standards of the student nations. Image from c. 1920.
In Sweden, Walpurgis Night ( or simply Valborg) has more or less become a de facto half holiday. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough writes, "The first of May is a great popular festival in the more midland and southern parts of Sweden. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flints together, blaze on all the hills and knolls."[5] One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom that is most firmly established in Svealand and may have begun in Uppland during the 18th century: "At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze, and ever since the early 18th century bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators." [6] In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practised, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, these were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.

Singing traditional songs of spring is widespread throughout the country. The songs are mostly from the 19th century and were spread by students' spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, such as Uppsala and Lund, where undergraduates, graduates and alumni gather at events that last most of the day from early morning to late night on 30 April, or sista april ("The Last Day Of April") as it is called in Lund and often Uppsala. More modern Valborg celebrations, particularly among Uppsala students, oftentimes consist of enjoying a breakfast including champagne and strawberries. During the day, people gather in parks, drink considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages, barbecue and generally enjoy the weather, if it happens to be favourable.

In Uppsala, since the mid-1970s, students also go rafting on Fyris n through the centre of town with home-made, in fact quite easily wreckable, and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold "Champagne Races", where students go to drink and spray champagne or somewhat more modestly priced sparkling wine on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion, as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. Spraying champagne is, however, a fairly recent addition to the Champagne Race. The name derives from the students running down the downhill slope from the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations, to drink champagne.

In Link ping, the students and public gather at the courtyard of Link ping Castle. Spring songs are sung by the Link ping University Male Voice Choir, and speeches are made by representatives of the students and the university teachers.

In Gothenburg, the carnival parade, The Cort ge, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers University of Technology, is an important part of the celebration. It is seen by around 250,000 people each year. Another major event is the gathering of students in Tr dg rdsf reningen to listen to student choirs, orchestras and speeches. An important part of the gathering is the ceremonial donning of the student cap, which stems from the time when students wore their caps daily and switched from black winter cap to white summer cap.

In Ume , there is a tradition of having local bonfires. During the last years, however, there have been a tradition of celebrating Walpurgis at the Ume University campus. The university organizes student choir song, there are different type of entertainments and also a speech by the president of the university. Different stalls sell hot dogs, candies, soft drinks etc.


While Walpurgis is not celebrated in The Netherlands due to their national Queens-Day falling on the same date, the small island of Texel celebrates a festival known as the 'Meierblis' (roughly translated as 'May-Blaze') on that same day, when bonfires are lit near nightfall, just as on Walpurgis. Though the local folklore may have tainted its true meaning over the years there is still a possibility that this was once a Walpurgis night. These days it is seen as a symbolic start for the upcoming warm weather. Winters in the Netherlands tend to be strongest in January and February; the May-blaze is a symbolic festival to drive away the last bits of winter with bonfires which are lit all over the island.

See also


External links

az:Valpurgiya gec si bg: ca:Nit de Walpurgis cv: cs:P len arod jnic da:Valborgsaften de:Walpurgisnacht et:Volbrip ev es:Noche de Walpurgis eo:Valpurga Nokto fo:Valborgarmessa fr:Nuit de Walpurgis ko: hr:Valpurgina no it:Notte di Valpurga he: ka: la:Nox Valpurgis lt:Valpurgijos naktis mk: nl:Walpurgisnacht (feest) ja: no:Valborgsnatten nn:Valborgsnatta pl:Noc Walpurgii pt:Noite de Santa Valburga ro:Noaptea Valpurgiei ru: simple:Walpurgis Night sh:Valpurgina no fi:Vappu sv:Valborgsm ssoafton uk:

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