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Column; Spring into Walpurgisnacht




In many parts of Central and Northern Europe, people will spend today and tonight, April 30, observing the holiday Walpurgisnacht. This mouthful of a word is the name of an ancient festival celebrating spring. Tomorrow is May first or May Day. May Day also is an ancient festival celebrating spring.

It is probably no coincidence that April 30 and Walpurgisnacht are exactly six months apart from another holiday with historical roots in agriculture, Halloween, originally an ancient festival celebrating the harvest. (Today also is the half-birthday of my stepdaughter Rachel, born on Oct. 31. However, she is neither ancient nor associated with an agricultural festival, so I guess this parenthesis is not relevant.)

The name derives from the eighth century missionary St. Walburga, but for most of the countries and cultures that are observing Walpurgisnacht the holiday is celebrated in a more secular fashion as the last day of winter. Some places will find university students ceremonially donning student caps to observe the ending of exams. Some places will have raft races on their rivers while others will use the occasion to play harmless pranks. All of the festivals will involve eating and drinking, dancing and singing. All of the celebrations will include huge bonfires.

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