Witches Night (Any Excuse for a Beer)
On April 30th every year we have Witches night and the star attraction is of course, the witch.
If you’re English then you’ll know all about Guy Fawkes night when people create an effigy of the man himself (takes me back to when I was a kid when you made a good effigy and took it down outside the newsagents and if people liked it they would drop coins for you and you’d save up to buy fireworks). But I digress. In our case we make an effigy of a witch because the witch signifies winter and Witches Night is basically a celebration of the end of winter.
The fire is a thing of beauty and people will often spend at least a day making it. The best ones are designed to be “self-feeding”. This is done by having larger pieces of wood towards the base and smaller/thinner towards the top creating a flat-top pyramid (pictured above). After the fire is lit then the top thinner wood burns faster and will fall into the centre hence feeding the fire and this continues until there is no more wood left to burn. Historically the fire was set to ward off evil spirits with anything considered unlucky or bad going onto the fire. In some cases the ashes were then used as part of the feed for agricultural land. Only later does the witch have a physical presence.
Sometimes you see the witch is already on the pyramid before it is set on fire. Traditionally though, the witch effigy would have paraded through the village and a crowd gathered to see her thrown onto the roaring fire. You’d then drink homemade alcohol to chase the last of the winter chill from your body.
Differences Between Village and Town Celebrations
In our village the pyramid is made on the day and the witch is already installed. Around 6pm people start to gather along with their beer, wine and sausages. The sausages are the special Czech Spekacky where you cut the ends and put it on a long roasting fork (when the ends of the sausage turn in its a sign that it is cooked). Alternatively, you cut a green branch from a tree and sharpen the end (green branch won’t burn). Early evening is mostly for families and the music comes later. But either way, you bring your own food and drink and you get close to the fire. In fact, be prepared to have a red face in the morning.
In central Prague the place to be is ST Nicholas Church in Mala Strana. At around 7pm there will be a procession of the witch down to Kampa Park where she’ll be put on the built fire which will be lit around 8pm. You can bring your own food and drink or buy at the concession stalls but you are not allowed near the fire.
Another place that does the Witches Night is Zlute Lazne and again here you can buy food and drink at the concession stalls. I recommend this venue for kids as they make a day of it.