Beware of Witches Night

by Petra Lessoing
Ramstein Public Affairs

May 1 is a special day in Germany and some neighboring countries.
The legal holiday is called Labor Day, with special events sponsored by trade unions. And it is a day to welcome spring and chase away the demons of winter the night before.

The night of April 30 is known as “Hexennacht,” witches night.
People living off-base must keep a watchful eye on their houses and vehicles Thursday night.

Customarily, mainly children and teenagers will  play tricks on neighbors. They ring doorbells and run off, put mustard on door handles, hide floor mats and trash cans, remove garden gates and wrap cars in toilet paper.

To be on the safe side, residents should take some precautionary measures such as parking their cars in the garage and putting stuff inside that usually sits outdoors such as doormats and flower pots.

Sometimes, older children or adults do destructive things like lifting drainage covers in the middle of the road or moving traffic signs.
So, drivers are asked to be very careful at night and the following morning, because these actions create safety hazards and result in property damage.
 German police will patrol the neighborhoods Thursday night and will take appropriate action if necessary.

Legend says that during Hexennacht, evil ghosts represented by cold weather, snow and darkness meet with witches and demons at Blocksberg hill in the Harz mountains. There, they get into mischief before they take off on broomsticks, pitchforks and billy goats at midnight.

The origin of witches night goes back to Pagan times when people believed evil ghosts tried to prevent the “Queen of Spring” from entering the country.
Witches and demons were masters of people and things, so people did a lot to protect themselves.

They hid billy goats and broomsticks so witches would not be able to ride on them through the night and do evil things.
It was an unwritten law that children must not get beaten with a broomstick, because it could be a witch’s tool.

Also, socks were put cross-shaped on children’s beds, pentagrams were put over house entrances or sacred salt was scattered over the threshold.
Residents used several herbs known to ban witches to smoke out houses and stables. Herbs included rue, St. John’s wort and juniper.

Men made a lot of noise with whips and gun shots and lit fires to scare away demons.
Cattle were driven through the fire to secure its fertility for the following year and young couples jumped over the fire to make sure their love would last forever.
Witches night is also called “Walpurgis” night. Walpurga was an English saint who worked as a missionary in Germany in the eighth century.
In 761, she became the abbess of a monastery in Heidenheim, which was founded by her two brothers Willibald and Wunibald, who also were saints.
She was known for exorcising demons from the bodies of the sick.

Walpurga died in 779, and on May 1, 871, her body was transported to Eischstäett to be reburied next to her brothers. 

Another German tradition to observe the beginning of May is to “dance into May.”
Various associations and sports clubs sponsor “Tanz in den Mai” with live music in community halls, sports gyms, gasthauses or other facilities that house dancing halls.
In several villages in the KMC, the May tree will be put up the evening of April 30 or in the morning of May 1. Sometimes this ceremony is combined with a village fest.

The May tree is usually a fir with the lower branches stripped and only the treetop untouched.

The pole is decorated with colorful ribbons and craftsmen’s trade ornaments like sausages for the butchers, pretzels for the bakers or carved wooden figures.
May poles symbolize the beginning of spring and hope for a good harvest.  
The legal holiday of Labor Day commemorates May 1, 1890, when the day was proclaimed as the day of the working class by the first international workers’ congress in Paris. It was a day to fight for an eight-hour workday and other working-class rights.

Trade unions and workers still meet for assemblies, demonstrations and political speeches.

Dances into May are offered starting at 8 p.m. Thursday in the Sportheim in Neuhemsbach, in the landwirtschaftliche Maschinenhalle (agricultural vehicle hall) in Mittelbrunn, in the Sportheim in Schopp, and the sports club in Martinshöhe sponsors a witches disco.

Also, on Thursday night, May fests, including putting up the May trees, will take place in Schwedelbach, Krickenbach, Stelzenberg, Waldleiningen and Fischbach.
May fests with musical entertainment, food and drinks will be celebrated May 1 in Frankelbach, Hirschhorn, Erzenhausen, Hauptstuhl, Mittelbrunn, Miesau and Neuhemsbach.