Walpurgis Night is a Germanic holiday which combines some ancient pagan rituals with Christianity, much like Easter eggs or the Easter bunny.

bonfire
Bonfires are often lit on Walpurgis Night to ward off evil spirits and witches. Taken by J. Newton via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

What is Walpurgis Night?

Walpurgis Night, also known as Saint Walpurgis Night or Saint Walpurga’s Eve (or Walpurgisnacht in German), is a Germanic holiday celebrated in northern Europe (continent and Scandinavia) on the night of April 30th.

The annual Walpurgis holiday takes place from the last night of April into the first day of May, and that first of May is the feast day for Saint Walpurgis, commemorating her canonization into sainthood.

Walpurgis Night falls on the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an English missionary who was celebrated in the Middle Ages as a protectress against magic. It was a night when witches were believed to ride freely through the land.

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Though it seems to be a Christian holiday, it is really repurposed from an older pagan holiday. Ancient European pagans celebrated the coming of Spring and fertility rituals on this night, prior to it being combined with St. Walpurga’s feast day holiday.

Who was Saint Walpurgis?

Saint Walpurga was born in Devon, in what is now the UK, in 710 CE.

After spending 26 years at Wimborne Minster abbey in Dorset, she (now aged 37) and her two brothers traveled as missionaries to Württemberg, in southwesternGermany, to convert the still-pagan Germans to Christianity.

The Germans from the region would later honor her for bringing them Christianity, while also initiating a legend around her that she cured the sick, fought off witches, protected sailors from any fear of water, and protected people through storms, a sort of protectress of travelers.

She came from England to Germany as a Christian missionary, and was hailed for her powers against epidemics such as pest, rabies, and whooping cough, as well as against witchcraft.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Die erste Walpurgisnacht

How is Walpurgis Night Celebrated?

In Germany, people dress in costumes, make loud noises to keep evil and witches away, and hang ankenschnitt, pieces of buttered bread, to ward off phantom hounds, according to Britannica.

Bonfires are lit to ward off evil spirits and witches, holy water is sprinkled around, and palm leaves are festooned around the house in abundance.

In Sweden, Valborg is celebrated in a similar way, with people dancing and singing songs around an outdoor fire. Swedes may enjoy their time outside, with a barbeque at the park, for instance.

In Finland, called Vappu or Vappen in Finnish, “high school students wear their white and black student hats, and those in higher education often wear their student boiler suits (opiskelijahaalari),” according to Scandinavia Standard.

A sparkling wine or mead, called sima, will be had, along with a funnel cake-type snack alongside, called tippaleipä.

How to Pronounce Walpurgis & Walpurgisnacht

Walpurgis: vahl-POOHR-ghis

Walpurgisnacht: vahl-POOHR-ghis-nokht


Well, that’s it for this European holiday. Check out our other holiday and tradition articles for more. Leave us a comment, and thanks for reading!

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