Credit: Lubos237 / CC BY-SA 3.0
Pálení carodejnic or ‘Burning of the Witches’ is an ancient folk festival, celebrated by the Czech people to ward off the evil winter spirits. On the evening of April 30th, Czechs believe that the power of the witches is at their peak and it could be tamed only if the weather becomes warmer.
To represent the evil witch, the locals cross two large sticks to make a broomstick. Next, they stuff old clothes with straw and place a pointed hat on the stack. The witch is then tied to a broomstick and set aside. As darkness falls, the wild beatings of the drums, costume parades, shrieking voices and enactment of spirits add to the festival. Everyone gathers at the pre-decided venue where a big, old bonfire is lit amidst roasting sausages, strumming guitars, live entertainment and people singing their favourite songs.
The ultimate motive of the evening is of course to burn the witch. But since it is a festival, things have to be dramatised to make the scene more interesting and enjoyable. The executioner arrives in a black robe and asks “Does anyone wish to pardon the witch or will she be executed”? If the crowd ask for mercy, they are ruthlessly (of course, everything is in good spirit!) told, “Whoever raises their hands will lose them!” Eventually, the witch hat is thrown into the bonfire for the better. As the witch succumbs to the flames, so do the last days of winter.