As Amanda mentioned if our last post, we’ve been experiencing a lot of Czech culture, including lots of good beer and good food. But my favorite so far has definitely been pálení čarodějnic or ‘burning of the witches’. This is a festival to mark the end of winter, and thus the beginning of spring, celebrated in many countries in central and northern Europe, often called Walpurgis Night. I won’t go too much into the history, but the curious reader can check out the wikipedia page for this holiday found here. We caught the train (barely) to the next village with our Czech house mates, stopping along the way for a beer (of course). We arrived at the festival to find that admission was free to people dressed as witches, unfortunately we’d left our warts and pointy hats in Colorado, however many of the children from the village had donned black dresses and teased their hair for the occasion. The music was playing and we had arrived just in time to see the town witches perform some choreographed dances. Soon after, they were put on trial, found guilty of witchcraft, and sentenced to death by burning at the stake (just as some of Amanda’s ancestors had been).
As is tradition, the village had created a large pile of tree branches to burn to say goodbye to winter. We were thoroughly amazed by the size of the impending bonfire, the small ‘safety’ distance that had been taped off, and the volunteer fireman the tape that had melted soon after the fire was ablaze. Most of our group took several paces back as the flames grew, but Amanda was comfortable a good 10 paces closer than anyone else - I’m sure there’s a joke here somewhere.
After the ceremonious burning of the witches, a local band took the stage and played both popular Czech songs as well as many American classics. We danced and enjoyed the music until the flames had subsided enough that we could get close enough to roast delicious sausages over the flames. Again, Amanda was much more comfortable squatting close to the embers than the rest of us (as demonstrated by how red and sweaty my face is in the picture below). After eating, we continued to dance and drink. We sang along to Sweet Home Alabama, Shook Me All Night Long, and Sweet Child of Mine and pretended to understand what the Czech songs were about.
This festival falls on the eve of May Day, consequently the village had also erected a large Maypole (that Amanda insisted on touching). Apparently the men of the village must stay up all night to protect the Maypole, or Majka, to guard it so that it is not stolen by men from neighboring villages. If the Majka is stolen in the night, it is quite shameful for the village. These Maypoles stand in the villages all year long, and since the festival we’ve been noticing them throughout the town - at the pubs, at the hotels - and we plan on putting one up outside the biology building at CU next May 1st.