Germans observe their Labor Day on Sunday. May 1 is a day to welcome spring and chase away the demons of winter.
The night of April 30 is known as “Hexennacht,” or witches night. On this night, people living off base must keep a watchful eye on their houses and vehicles. Customarily, children and teenagers play tricks on neighbors. On this night, children often ring doorbells and run away, 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 belongings like doormats and flower pots inside.
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 or the following morning, because these actions create safety hazards and result in property damage. German police will patrol the neighborhoods Saturday night and 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. Here, 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 that 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 fire to secure their 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.
In several villages of 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 usually is 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
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 meet for assemblies, demonstrations and political speeches.