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Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated today by Christian as well as non-Christian communities, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe.

The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after Saint Walpurga, born in Devonmarker about 710. Due to the coincidence of her holy day falling on the same day as the pagan holiday on which it was based, her name became associated with the celebrations. Walpurga was honored in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. Early Christianity had a policy of 'Christianising' pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1.


Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various pagan spring customs. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were then widely believed to walk among the living. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day, although bonfires and witches are more closely associated with Easter (especially in Ostrobothniamarker, Finland) and bonfires alone with midsummer in the rest of Finland.

Saint Walpurga herself was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. Together with her brothers she travelled to Franconia, Germanymarker, where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, Bavariamarker, which was founded by her brother Willibald. Walpurga died of an illness shortly after moving the mortal remains of her brother, Saint Winibald on 25 February 779. She is therefore listed in the Roman Martyrology under 25 February. Her relics were transferred on 1 May so that she might be buried beside Willibald, and that day carries her name in the Finnish and Swedish calendars.


In Estoniamarker, Volbriöö is celebrated on the night from April 30 to May 1, with the following day (May 1) being a public holiday of lesser importance called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). Yet Volbriöö itself has considerable importance as one of the main reasons to party across the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Nowadays some people still dress up as witches and wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

Yet for most Estonians, Volbriöö has become a reason to celebrate the arrival of Spring with huge outdoor drinking and partying throughout the night. This is especially strongly honoured in Tartumarker, the university town in Southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional march on the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting of each others' corporation houses all night, drinking lots of beer as they stay with the hosts and move along the streets from one place to another. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').


Today in Finlandmarker, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity, taking place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student, and particularly the engineering student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of "Vappu". From the end of the 19th century and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, awho have already received their student cap. Many people who have graduated from lukio, and thus traditionally assumed as university students or alumni, wear the cap. Engineering students have their own type of cap resembling the general one, but also having a pompon hanging from it. One tradition is drinking homemade sima (mead) (whose alcohol content varies) along with freshly cooked donuts.

In the capital Helsinkimarker and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping of the Havis Amandamarker, a nude female statue in Helsinkimarker, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of the Helsinki University of Technology. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine-cans and milk cartons. The vappu of engineering students, unlike that of other students, starts a week before the actual day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki - and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population - in Helsinki city.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include center and right-wing parties, but also other institutions like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches. In Sweden it is only the left-wing parties which use May 1 for political activities, while others observe the traditional festivities. Left-wing activists who were active in the 1970s still party on May Day. They arrange carnivals and the radio plays old leftist songs from the 1970s.

Traditionally May 1 is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuistomarker or Kaisaniemimarker in the case of Helsinkimarker). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hardcore party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between.Some student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. Student caps, mead, streamers and balloons have their role in the picnic, as well as in the celebration as a whole.

Vappu/Valborg and Midsummer are Finland's two main holidays in the summer-half of the year, on par with Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in the winter-half.


In Germanymarker, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksbergmarker and await the arrival of Spring.

A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht". The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is also called "Walpurgisnacht".

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane 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 on Walpurgisnacht, e.g. tampering with neighbors' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury.

In Berlinmarker traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerparkmarker in Prenzlauer Bergmarker. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburgmarker, though in both cases the situation has significantly calmed down in the past few years.

Adolf Hitler, with several members of his staff (including Joseph Goebbels), committed suicide on Walpurgisnacht, April 30 – May 1, 1945. At the time of his suicide, the Russians had already closed in about several hundred meters on his bunkermarker and Hitler did not want to be captured alive. However, the coincidence of the day has been used to argue for an occult initiation of Hitler.


In Swedenmarker, Walpurgis Night ( or simply Valborg) is one of the de facto public holidays during the year. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough writes that "The first of May is a great popular festival in the more midland and southern parts of Sweden. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flints together, blaze on all the hills and knolls". One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which may have begun in Upplandmarker during the 18th century: "At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze, and ever since the early 18th century bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators". An older tradition from Southern Sweden was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task is to be paid in egg. None of this is practised today.

The tradition which is most widespread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. Most of the songs are from the 19th century and were spread by students' spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsalamarker and Lundmarker where both current and graduated students gather at events that take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or "sista april" ("The last day of April") as it is called in Uppsalamarker. Modern Valborg celebrations, particularly in Uppsala, consist of having a light breakfast including champagne and strawberries. During the day people gather in parks, drink alcoholic beverages, grill and generally enjoy the weather, if it happens to be any good.In Uppsala students also go rafting in Fyrisån on home-made and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold "Champagne Races" where students go to drink and spray champagne (more often actually sparkling wine) on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. There are also newer student traditions in Gothenburgmarker, like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmersmarker.

Czech Republic

April 30 is "pálení čarodějnic" ("burning of the witches") or "čarodějnice" in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end, by the burning of rag and straw witches or just broomsticks on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire.

See also


  1. The name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice or Valpuržina noc in Czech, chódotypalenje Lower Sorbian, chodojtypalenje in Upper Sorbian.
  2. Norse Holidays and Festivals
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint Walburga
  4. Patron Saints Index: Saint Walburga.

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