Pálení čarodějnic (30 April)

One of the most noteworthy traditions in the Czech Republic is its pálení čarodějnic (witch burning) which occurs every year on April 30th. Although the actual burning of witches on stakes have ceased in the 18th century, there are a handful of European countries as well with the Czech Republic who take part in burning away “the witch of winter” to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring. In the evening of April 30th, Czechs gather and create huge bonfires with what they can while preparing an effigy of a witch to be burned along with it. Most times, two large sticks would be gathered to form a cross. Then they would stuff old shirts, pants and socks with straw and place a pointed hat on top of the stack – to represent a witch. Often times, broomsticks are incorporated into the effigy as well to give it a more realistic look. The effigy is then ready and people will wait until nightfall to start the burning process.

 If this is your first time hearing about this event, I got to admit that it does sound a little brutal – I know. Especially when children are taking part in it each year, but it’s a tradition and it is not seen as anything morbid. Czechs view this tradition to lightheartedly welcome springtime and to literally “burn away the cold of winter.” Try to see it in that light and you can enjoy the events that occur on this day. Many parks in the city hold festivals where there is a huge bonfire to commemorate this event. When the fire is ablaze, many people roast sausages on sticks, strum their guitars, and sing along to their favourite songs. It’s a pretty interesting sight especially when you know the backstory of why they are doing it. Definitely attend and witness this event, as it’s probably one of the most culture-shocking traditions that you’ll experience!

May Day (1 May)

On May 1st in the Czech Republic, it is commonly known and written down as Labor day. However, most Czechs would look past this and consider May 1st to be the day of love. Many couples gather at the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha, the Czech Romantic “poet of love” which is located in Prague’s Petřín Park on this day. Why do they do this?

In the past there was a great Czech romantic poet named Karel Hynek Mácha who wrote the famous poem entitled Máj (May). The beautiful poem is often referred to as it tells the tale of a tragic love between two people. This poem was so highly regarded that it became a poetic masterpiece of the Czech Romantic period and Czech literature in general.

According to Czech tradition, girls should be kissed under a cherry blossom tree so that she will remain beautiful all year around. However, finding cherry blossom trees in Prague are not so frequent, so many young couples make their way to Petrin park where there are a few rows of cherry blossom trees that begin to bloom in May. It’s also works in everyone’s favour that this is also a holiday and no one has to work. Therefore, everyone goes scouting for cherry blossom trees and you’ll find that Petrin park is a magnet for couples on this day – especially if the weather is nice out.

If you are curious about the poem and would like a taste to judge if it’s really as beautiful as everyone makes it out to be, here is the beginning verse:

Karel Hynek Mácha: Máj (May)
Late evening, on the first of May –
The twilight May – the time of love.
Meltingly called the turtle-dove,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.
Whispered of love the mosses trail,
The flowering tree as sweetly lied,
The rose’s fragrant sigh replied
To love-songs of the nightingale.
In shadowy woods the burnished lake
Darkly complained a secret pain,
By circling shores embraced again;
And heaven’s clear sun leaned down to take
A road astray in azure deeps,
Like burning tears the lover weeps.