The Burning of the Witches, April 30

Contributed by Petr Chudoba:

On the evening of April 30th, Czechs gather to build a bonfire and prepare an effigy of the witch that kept winter around so long. Czechs used to believe that the power of witches would weaken as the weather got warmer. So they thought that if they made something that looked like a witch and burned it, they could finally get rid of the cold weather. First, they tie two large sticks together to form a cross. Then they stuff old shirts, pants and socks with straw and place a pointed hat on the top of the stack. The witch is tied to a broomstick and set aside until darkness falls. When the fire is roaring, people roast sausages on sticks, strum guitars, and sing their favorite songs. Everyone looks forward to nightfall, when they will face the spirits of the witches. As soon as it's dark, the effigy of the witch is brought out and held up for all to see. Then, with a heave of the arm, it is thrown on top of the bonfire. As the witch burns, so does the last of winter's chill.

Contributed by Dayan:
The older kids of the village are placed in charge of building the biggest pyre they can with whatever they can find to burn. These fires get huge. The kids of the village I was in used tractors to haul tree trunks to the riverbank site. They set up the tree trunks in a TeePee style and then stuffed it full of dry grass, old tires and trash. As if that weren't enough they doused it with some sort of petrol substance. Building this pyre looked like a lot of fun for the kids. They worked all day on it. Villages on opposite sides of a river bank will turn this holiday into a competition. Biggest fire wins. Before dusk all the kids of the village gather at the end of town furthest from the river and light their torches. An ugly doll representing a witch is then paraded through the village. I'm not fluent in Czech, so I don't know what most of the kids were saying, but it didn't sound nice. In any case at the end of the parade route the witch is set atop the pyre and set ablaze as all the kids throw their torches at it. It was so much fun. The kids build the biggest fire they can and the adults drink as much great tasting beer/pivo as they can. In the end all the evil spirits of the village go up in smoke with the foul witch.