Walpurgis night is a traditional spring festival from 30 of April to 1st of 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.
The origin of Walpurgis
The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (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. Nowadays the eve of May day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, and with bonfire came to be known as Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurga’s night”).
In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night on 30 of April, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the top of the Brocken mountain and await the arrival of spring…
According to Jacob Grimm, the great storyteller, the witches gathered at the top of the Brockenberg which is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It was a perfect place for spells and miracles because the mountain is/was noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre (ghost) and therefore for witches’ revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis’s night. Scientificaly the Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.
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 (trick or treat) such as tampering with neighbor’s gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property.
In Berlin, traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark and 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.
Maypole erection and dancing under the May tree
Maypole which is a decorated tree or tree trunk that is usually erected either on 1st of May – in Baden and Swabia – or on the evening before, for example, in East Frisia. In most areas, especially in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Austria, it is usual to have a ceremony to erect the maypole on the village green. The custom of combining it with a village or town festival, that usually takes place on 1st of May or at Pentecost (Whitsun), is widespread. This tradition is especially strong in the villages of the Bavarian Alps where the raising of the traditional maypole on 1st of May in the village square is a cause for much celebration. The custom is going back to the 16th century. The pole is usually painted in the Bavarian colours of white and blue and decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry. Just before the Maibaum is erected, depending on the region, there is a procession through the village, usually ending up at a central place and/or restaurant and usually watched by crowds of spectators and accompanied by a brass band. The actual installation of the tree then takes place in the afternoon or evening. While the crowds usually while away the time drinking beer and eating sausages, the young men busy themselves with decorating the maypole to get the symbols of various trades representing the region into the right position. Whilst the maypole is traditionally set up with the help of long poles, today it may sometime also be done using tractors, forklifts or even cranes. If the tree is erected on the eve of 1st of May, then the event is usually followed by a May dance (Tanz unten den Maibaum).
Depending on local custom, the Maibaum may remain in place until the end of the month and then it is taken down, decorations removed and the trunk stored until the following year. In many parts of Bavaria it remains in place all year round.
On the night of the last day of April, many young men erect small decorated “Maibäume” in front of the houses of their sweethearts. Some attach a red heart with the name of the girl written on it to the tree.
Auer Dult from 30 of April to 6 of May
After Walpurgis night we hit the town and participated at the Auer Dult. It is organized three times a year when Münich city invites everyone to the “Dult”, to a traditional fair and market. Then the Mariahilf Square buzzes nine days long with people strolling and looking for special collectible items, eating and drinking, laughing and shopping. The Auer Dult offers traditional merry-go-round just like handmade pottery or herbs for your good pot of tea – a market like a children´s fairy tale…