Walpurgis Night is a tradition celebrated on the 30th April in northern Europe and Scandinavia. The date strangely is exactly 6 months before All Hallows Eve or as it’s more commonly known – Halloween.
Described by Bram Stoker in his short story, ‘Dracula’s Guest’:
‘Walpurgis Night was when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad – when the graves were opened and the dead come forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.’
‘Walpurgis Night’ originates from Pagan celebrations of fertility rites and the coming of spring. The name itself is taken from Saint Walburga, an English born nun who was to become Abbess of a monastery in Francia in the 8th century. Walburga was believed to have had the power to cure illnesses of local residents.
In Germanic folklore Walpurgisnacht, also called Hexennacht, is believed to be the night when the witches met on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, in central Germany. In Germany it is celebrated by dressing in costumes, playing practical jokes, and creating loud noises in an effort to keep evil at bay. Many people also hang blessed plants and foliage from houses and barns in an attempt to ward off witches.
In Sweden, typical Walpurgis Night activities include the singing of traditional folk songs, fireworks and the lighting of bonfires. The Vikings, who called it ‘Valborg’ picked up the habit of lighting bonfires to keep away evil spirits and wild animals so that the livestock would not get harmed by witches and evil spirits. They also used the bonfires to celebrate and attempt to bring spring in a bit quicker.
In Sweden many people tidy up their gardens this time of year. The leaves and branches are good material for the bonfires, and so are the Christmas trees after Christmas. In many places, people gather material for their bonfires for months ahead. Unofficially the goal is to have a bigger bonfire than the next village!