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Walpurgisnacht: How the Swiss celebrate the night of witches

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
Walpurgisnacht: How the Swiss celebrate the night of witches
Expect lots of fires on Walpurgisnacht. Photo: Hans from Pixabay

During the night on April 30th into May 1st everything revolves around witches, bonfires, and Celtic folk music. The Local explains what the night is all about, how it’s celebrated and what you can (and cannot) do to ring in spring in Switzerland.


Walpurgisnacht, also known as the 'night of the witches', is a pagan festival celebrated every year on the night of April 30th and usually lasts past midnight into May 1st. Traditionally, large fires are lit on Walpurgisnacht meant to bring fertility and health to man and nature, while driving away evil.

Those brave enough to jump over the embers of the fire are granted one wish. If a couple jumps hand-in-hand, it is said that they stay together for life. The blazing fire is also said to protect the revellers’ health and ward off diseases.

READ ALSO: Which Swiss cantons have a public holiday on May 1st?

What’s in a name?

The name Walpurgsinacht is derived from a nun named Walpurga (710-779), who was considered the patron saint against evil spirits and whose memorial day was celebrated on May 1st in the Medieval period. According to legend, on the night of April 30th, witches would gather on the Blocksberg, also known as Brocken, in Northern Germany to marry none other than the devil and drive out winter.

German novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe made the term Walpurgisnacht popular throughout Europe, not only though his tragic play Faust, but also his ballad Die erste Walpurgisnacht.


How do the Swiss celebrate Walpurgisnacht?


It is estimated that Switzerland has some 1,000 practising witches today and you can join a number of them by snagging a ticket to the Walpurgisnacht celebrations held by the Hexenmuseum - the museum of witches - in Gränichen – if you’re quick enough. Understandably, the event sells out fast so you may want to get ahead for the coming year.

A witch holds a candle

Get ready for witch night. Photo by Ksenia Yakovleva on Unsplash

The festivities held at the museum include a spectacular fire show and a traditional May (tree) dance. Visitors also get to try the Waldmeister Bowle, an alcoholic punch made with sweet woodruff and traditionally sipped to celebrate fertility and the spirits of the forest. The drink, which was hailed an aphrodisiac in the Middle Ages, goes especially well with the so-called ‘magic’ Bärlauchzopf (garlic bread).

Forest celebrations

Don’t despair if you’re unlucky at the Hexenmuseum ticket front. In fact, most people in Switzerland prefer to hold their own Walpurgisnacht celebrations among (witchy) friends in the dark corners of local forests by lighting a cosy fire, singing, and dancing. Many Swiss families who celebrate alongside kids like to venture deep into the forest in a witchy hunt for wood to craft makeshift broom sticks with.

You can also up the ante by renting a small hut (Hexenhaus) where you’re free to practice magic spells to your heart’s content and brew up magic potions to share with fellow sorcerers and sorceresses.

But beware….

If you feel like letting out your inner witch to ring in spring, remember that Switzerland has strict rules in place when it comes to lighting fires and enjoying barbecues in its forests - for witches and muggles alike.

READ ALSO:: 8 rules nature lovers should follow in the Swiss countryside

A bonfire

There may be some (safe) fires on Walpurgisnacht in Switzerland. Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash



Speaking of witchy foods, a fun recipe to drum up with friends and family is the Hexensuppe (witch soup) made with pumpkins, apples, and carrots. You can easily access varied recipes online or let your magic do its thing and whip up a spontaneous concoction with leftover vegetables.

Now you’ve brewed up the night’s meal, just what is there to drink? The answer is simple: herbal tea. After all, real witches know a thing or two about herbs. Luckily, making herbal tea doesn’t require witchcraft, it’s actually quite simple. All you need is a few dried flowers petals, herbs, and water and you’re good to go.


But Walpurgisnacht isn’t just reserved for would-be witches. Every year at the Alpaufzug when the cows march up to the alps for the grazing season, the animals are adorned with flower wreaths and made to walk past two bonfires to be ‘cleansed of evil’.


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