As in many European countries also in the Czech Republic we consider the end of April and the beginning of the May to be quite magical. It is really a time to say good bye to the winter for good and to celebrate the beginning of the spring. On the 30th April we do bon fires to chase away the bad spirits sometimes in the form of witches and on 1st May is the Czech Valentine’s Day!
The Witch Burning (30th April)
There are many traditions connected to the last April night. Some have religious background, some pagan and some are just old folk traditions. “Pálení čarodějnic” (Witch burning) is for most people today a time to burn the garden waste after the spring garden cleaning. Also, bon fires are lit at common areas in the villages and in the city parks. People come together to drink couple of beers and to roast “buřt” or “špekáček” (short sausage) on a wooden stick. Back in the past people also did bon fires, these fires symbolized the cleansing after the wither. It was a celebration of life, fertility and nature. It is also said that witches get together to talk about the bad things they have done to people past year and to make plans for the next one. The legends say that they fly on their brooms around big fires on the top of the hills. So, watch out for witches on this day! Catholic church was particularly afraid of these stories and used them against innocent women in so called “witch hunt” when they used to burn “the witches” alive. Other reason why people make fires is to chase away the winter and the bad spirits. At some part of the Czech Republic girls jump over the fire to stay “bad spirits free” and to stay beautiful during the next year.
Where to go for bon fire in Prague
If you are in Prague on 30th April take some time to check out proper Czech “pálení čarodějnic”. It is a great opportunity to mingle with locals and to learn a little about Czech traditions. Most events take place in suburbs, but there are couple, which are easy to get to from the city center.
What: Witches meet up – witches parade from Malostranské náměstí to park Kampa and bon fire in the park
Where: Park Kampa
When: 30th April 2017 from 7 pm
What: Bon fire, games and live music – the most popular witch event in Prague!
Where: Park Ladronka
How to get there: Take the bus 191 from Anděl to stop U Ladronky, or tram 22 to U Kaštanu and walk for 10-15 minutes
When: The program starts at 12pm and the bon fire is lit at 7pm
What: Bon fire, live music, small refreshments, games for kids
Where: Břevnovský klášter
How to get there: Take a tram 22 to stop Břevnovský klášter
When: Entertainment starts at 1pm and fire is lit at 5 pm
Byl pozdní večer – první máj –
večerní máj – byl lásky čas.
Hrdliččin zval ku lásce hlas,
kde borový zaváněl háj…
Karel Hynek Mácha (1810 - 1836)
It was late in the evening, the 1st May
Evening in May, it was the time of love
Turtle-dove’s song was inviting to love,
In the grove which smells of pine…
This poem says it all. The 1st of May is the Czech equivalent of Valentine’s Day. But do not expect hearts and bears, rather watch out for couples walking hand in hand to the nearest park and searching for a tree in bloom.
According to tradition, on 1st of May every woman should be kissed by her love under a blossoming tree, the best is a cherry tree, but do not worry if you cannot find any, any blossoming tree will do. This magical kiss will make your love last one more year and ladies will stay young and beautiful.
Ladies and young girls also used to make small wreaths of flowers and drop them in streams. If a boy caught it, he might become her future husband.
A tradition which is still quite popular in the countryside is erection of “májka”. It is a tree decorated with ribbons, or green wreaths, attached on a tall pole. Májka is usually placed in the center of the village and is erected on 1st May.
Young boys guard májka during the first night because guys from the next village might try to steel it, and if they were successful it would be very embarrassing for the whole village. Back in the day, boys put up their own májka under the window of a girl who they liked. A lucky girl, would have found many decorated trees under her window the next morning :)
During the Communist time was 1st May celebrated as Labor Day, when everyone had to take part in city parades. Even today the supports of Communist party meet to celebrate it.
1st May in Prague
Romantic Day at Petřín Hill with the poet Karel Hynek Mácha (Event starts at 11:30 am and last the whole day, life music, romantic cards making, picture taking with Karel Hynek Mácha)
Go under any blossoming tree anywhere all around the word and have fun with Czech traditions!
Many political parties used this holiday for political agitation and different political groups also call demonstrations. So be aware that you might see demonstrations, more police men and traffic complications.