April is traditionally the month where the weather is most unpredictable, whereas the “merry month of May” is known for good weather with lots of sunshine to enjoy. There are several traditions in Germany to say goodbye to the colder seasons and to “help” make summer come quicker. We’d like to introduce you to some of them and who knows – maybe together we can chase away the cold!
Walpurgis Night or Witches’ Night (in German “Walpurgisnacht” or “Hexennacht”) is celebrated in the night from 30 April to 1 May. The folkloric belief is that in this night the witches meet on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, where they await the beginning of spring.
In some parts of Germany, the people light huge fires to celebrate the coming of May and to chase away the cold air. This is similar to the Easter fires. There’s also the tradition of jumping over the fire later in the night once they have burned down a bit. This is called “Maisprung” (rougly translated: “May jump”) and is mostly practiced by young lovers who consider this a test of their courage as well as of their love. In other regions like Brandenburg, people stick wooden figures of witches into the flames to ward off evil coming to their village or town.
Another tradition derives from the Walpurgis Night: As the witches were thought to be dancing around fires, people love to go to special parties called “Tanz in den Mai”. This means dancing all night long until May arrives.
Maypole / May tree
Another – originally pagan – tradition to celebrate the beginning of spring is the Maypole or May tree (“Maibaum” in German). The tree is decorated with birch branches, colourful streamers, flowers and symbols for the specific region where it is erected on 30 of April or 1 May.
The most thrilling part of this tradition happens even before the actual celebration: The stealing of the Maypole. Towns and villages try to steal each other’s May trees to get a ransom for it – which usually consists of lots of beer and food. To prevent themselves from the embarrassment of having to buy back their stolen Maypoles, locals keep a close watch on it.
The raising of the May trees is accompanied by big celebrations: With lots of special beer called “Maibock” beer – which is a special bock beer that’s only sold between April and June – and even more sausages the tradition confirms lots of stereotypes. Parades and brass band music add to the special flair of these celebrations. Sometimes there are even competitions and who can climb the fastest to the top of the tree.
So whatever you’re going to do at the end of April – plan on joining the festivities, chase away the cold and say welcome to the merry month of May!
Text: S. Schückel