Carodejnice – the burning of witches night

Bonfire with witch, ready for burning © Ricky Yates

Yesterday evening, Monday 30th April, I attended my first ever Carodejnice, here in my adopted home village of Stará Oleška. In the nearly ten years that I have lived in the Czech Republic, I had both heard and read about Carodejnice, but had never experienced the tradition whilst living in urban Prague. However, in the North Bohemian countryside, the tradition is alive and well.

Carodejnice is very similar to the better-known Germanic tradition of Walpurgis Night. It involves having a large bonfire on which the effigy of a witch is burnt. Historically, the idea was to ward off evil spirits. These days, it is used as the opportunity for an outdoor evening party, helped by the following day being May Day or Labour Day, a public holiday.

The Stará Oleška Carodejnice took place on a large grassed area, directly behind Restaurace U Soni. This had been thoroughly prepared over the previous couple of weeks with the grass being neatly mown, a bonfire built, a stall for serving food set up, and two large spit roasters put in place. Then on the day, all the tables and benches from the front terrace of Restaurace U Soni, were transported around the back, out onto the grass.

Burning bonfire & witches © Ricky Yates

The evening started at around 17.00, with a series of games for the children. At the same time, the spit roasters were lit to later produce a continuous supply of roasted ham, served with bread & various sauces. Later also, there were sausages that could be put on long sticks and roasted in the fire.

The normal bar and restaurant were closed for the evening. Instead, there was a temporary outdoor bar at the back of the building, serving beer, wine, spirits, soft drinks and tea! Everybody paid for their drinks in the normal manner. An entrance fee of CZK 100, (€4.00/£3.50) per adult, covered the cost of the food.

Just as it was getting dark, the bonfire was lit from the back. Just before it was lit, someone added a second witch 🙂 Soon the bonfire was well alight and both witches were quickly burnt.

The party continued on into the evening, with tables and benches being carried to be nearer the bonfire as the evening air became cooler. It was a lovely event to be part of, very well-attended by village residents, together with some from slightly further afield. We were fortunately blessed with a fine, clear evening, and later on, by a full moon.

Full moon over Stará Oleška © Ricky Yates

PS – Once again, I must apologise for the lack of a hácek above both the ‘C’ and first ‘e’ in ‘Carodejnice’, and above the ‘c’ in hácek. Unfortunately, as I have previously explained, if I put them in, my blog set up cannot cope and ‘ Carodejnice’ would become ‘ ?arod?jnice’.

20 comments to Carodejnice – the burning of witches night

  • Pauleen Bang

    In Denmark we have what seems to be the equivalent, but is on 23rd June and is called Sankt Hans Aften. Also bonfire and witch-burning but on a slightly warmer evening, although it often rains.
    I love reading your blog. Keep it coming.

    • Ricky

      Hello Pauleen – What you describe does sound like the Danish equivalent 😉 We certainly were fortunate with the weather yesterday evening.

      Glad to know you’re enjoying the blog. I’m always promising myself to blog more frequently, but it doesn’t always happen 🙁

  • SY

    Perhaps it is also an idea to take a moment to remember the victims of medieval witch-hunts, most of them women. Up to 35,000 (some say more) have been executed in Europe, many of them burnt. What is now a ‘cute’ event was once a real, deadly danger for women that didn’t fit the template of “good, Christian woman” … SY

    • Ricky

      You make an important point SY. Many present day ‘folk festivals’ were in times past, celebrated with less pleasant overtones & sometimes with violence. ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ or ‘Bonfire Night’ in the UK, used to be accompanied with nasty anti Roman Catholic rhetoric.

  • The June holiday that is also linked with fires and all sorts of magic has various names in different countries – over here in CZ it’s “Vecer Svatojánský”, i.e. St. John’s Eve (the same meaning as in DK) while in the UK it’s simply Midsummer, in Scandinavia Midsommar… all of them essentially linked with the ancient [astronomic] feast of Midsummer… Even the famous play by Shakespeare is named accordingly in the Czech translation 🙂

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Katka. The time around mid-June when the day with the longest hours of daylight occurs each year, is often marked with similar celebrations, helped no doubt by the weather being warmer making sitting outside more pleasant 😉

  • Robert E. Doolittle

    Ricky: I feel I have been remiss in not wishing you Happy Easter, the most important day in World History. I did not realize how much I missed not reading your blog, and two not making any comments. Most recent first.

    The witches night burning was fascinating. We would have loved to have been be there. It looks like you have found a niche in the life of your village congratulations!

    The photos taken on your visit to the Saxony Switzerland bring back memories. We visited that unique area as part of a trip to Dresden and Meissen many years ago.

    The restaurant where you had your beautiful trout dinner with liquid refreshment looked very inviting.I haven’t had broiled trout since leaving Czechia 10 years ago. I followed the link you provided, and found the history of the restaurant quite interesting. I love reading about what extraordinary things that ordinary people do with their lives. Which proves that humans are extraordinary.

    I noticed that the trees in your area of the world are not leafed out yet. Here in Florida that event is long over and the temperatures are pushing into the mid 80’s F’0. Summer is racing towards us.

    The work done on your home looks beautiful. By mid-June no one will be sitting outside unless they are up to their necks in water. The Lutheran church you visited looked beautiful, quite simple and plain, just right for Easter. I am going to have to read your blog on a regular basis to keep my memories of some of the extraordinary people we have met in our travels.
    More later, Bob

    • Ricky

      Thank you Bob, for this long comment on my various recent posts & for your Easter greetings. I’m glad to know you’ve enjoyed reading the blog & helped bring back good memories from your past travels.

      Your observation that ‘the trees in your area of the world are not leafed out yet’ was certainly correct back in late March. Winter held on for a long time this year and Spring came late. But since then, all has turned green, trees & bushes are in blossom and everything is growing rapidly. I’m about to go and mow my grass once more, as soon as I’ve replied to your comment!

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. Please continue to do so!

  • Stephen Morris

    Thank you for this great post, Ricky! I’m going to share it on Facebook ?
    My readers will be very interested

    • Ricky

      Thank you Stephen! You are most welcome to share it on Facebook. I’ve just noticed that the number of Facebook likes & shares has gone up 😉

  • Monika

    Ricky, I cannot begin to tell you how much joy reading your blog has brought me!

    Although I followed you years ago (when we lived in Switzerland), we are back in Canada, and I am guilty of forgetting about blogs a bit as everyone seems to have moved onto facebook. But yesterday, I remembered your blog and thought it would appeal to a recently retired university professor who is a facebook friend of mine, and have been happily catching up with happenings in your world.

    As a Czech who did not live in Czechoslovakia past the age of 4, but for 3 summers when I was in university, and numerous visits since, I do not have a clue of what it is really like to live there. My husband and I are still some years from retirement, but the topic of where to retire has come up as we currently live in Ottawa, Canada, and do not feel very rooted here. The place we lived where we the most happy, where we felt we fit, where we had the most friends, was in Geneva. Definitely, as soon as we arrive back in Europe, it feels like home. But, we are both still Canadians — my husband a French Canadian since 1615 — and myself, a naturalized one, albeit a dual citizen. To see people who are not Czech choose to live there is so heartening… I yearn to feel like I belong somewhere; we have moved so much, that to somehow to return to the place of one’s birth on some level feels like the warmth of a grandmother’s embrace. You give me hope that this is something that might work for us.

    My dad returned to live in Prague, and after the passing of his lady love, moved to a senior’s residence in Terezin. Last year when he passed away, I had to go to the same building you did in Usti nad Labem to sort out his paperwork for Canada. Litomerice (sorry, cannot sort out the diacritical marks on this computer) is so pretty, and we love Roudnice Nad Labem too — there are so many towns like it that are not top tourist spots, but have much to offer nevertheless.

    You wrote about your reasons for choosing to retire in the CR, one of them being xenophobia. As a Canadian though, I come from a different context. Here, we embrace refugees — for the most part. My children went to a wonderful Montessori school here, and for a total of 8 years in combination, had a hijab-wearing Muslim teacher whom they love deeply. They have many close friends who are Muslim, or who are from Zimbabwe and Kenya and Burundi and other places. My daughter is now 14 and in high school, and at least half of her friends are LGBTQ. When I spoke about the refugee crisis with my cousin in Prague back in 2015 (I still have weak links to the country which are rapidly disappearing), I got the typical Czech xenophobic view of refugees (who are not exactly knocking at the door!). So, I wonder if we would fit in… Geneva of course, is such a special case because it is a UN city, full of people from all over the world, but all with similar educational attainment and values; the rest of Europe is not necessarily as open or liberal. When I was there seeing to my dad’s affairs, people were so kind, and I could not stop wondering what it would be like were we to live there. How do you find attitudes and values in the Czech Republic, especially outside of Prague? Could a pair of Canadians, used to diversity, fit happily?

    And oh my goodness, you could not have picked a more difficult house number to pronounce!

    Thank you for all your wonderful posts!

    • Ricky

      Hello Monika – Thank you for visiting once more & leaving this long comment – your first since August 2011 😉

      Whilst I’m on Facebook, I maintain my blog because it gives me the opportunity to write at greater length. Also, my posts also don’t disappear from sight after a few days as they effectively do on FB. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading through my posts of recent months.

      I’m also pleased to have given you hope that you might be able to eventually retire here in the CR. As I set out in my 400th blog post in November 2017 to which you refer, I feel far more comfortable living here than I would in the UK and I can easily afford to live here on my pension income which would not be the case in the UK. The big problem with Switzerland is that it’s very expensive, more so now than when you previously lived in Geneva.

      Unfortunately, as I mention in that 400th post, xenophobia is also present here as you discovered from your cousin. But as you rightly say, refugees are not knocking at the door of the Czech Republic – they want to get to Germany or to the UK. Since living here in North Bohemia, the only thing I have experienced is the occasional negative comment about Roma, many of whom were settled here post 1945, after the expulsion of most of the Sudetendeutsche population.

      As for my house number, it continues to be the source of much amusement. As I always say, at least it isn’t 444 🙂

      • Monika

        Ah yes… August 2011 was when we moved back to Ottawa; I have found the transition difficult.

        It is good to hear that you are comfortable in the CR; I like to think that the basis for the attitudes is that people had been shut off from the rest of the world for so long — no one came to visit, and they did not get to travel — that they have been left behind, as it were. The Czechs gave birth to workmen’s compensation, other social justice programs, and was home to the great humanist Karel Capek. I would like to believe that this humanist vein is still there.

        About xenophobia: I thought I would just mention — in case you have not already seen it — a most extraordinary tv documentary series my 14 year old daughter and I have been watching this weekend. It is an Australian production about migrants, challenging the views of those who consider them illegals and queue jumpers, and showing what refugees endure in camps and in boats. The Dutch, Danes, Germans and a couple of others have made their own versions of the show; it is called Go Back To Where You Came From .

        I look forward to hearing more about your Czech adventures!

        • Ricky

          Hello again Monika – I think what you write in your second paragraph does explain a lot. And whilst there are the xenophobes who support Tomio Okamura & his party, there are also plenty of people within the CR who do have concern for the refugee and migrant.

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    How kind of your neighbours to arrange a party for the first anniversary of your retirement. 😉 St. John’s Eve is also celebrated in Ireland but ‘Garland’, ‘Height’ or ‘Reek’ Sunday is much better known throughout the country because it is the traditional day (last Sunday in July) for climbing Croagh Patrick Mountain near Westport in County Mayo. This ancient pilgrimage still attracts tens of thousands each year, many setting off in the darkness long before dawn in order to be on the summit for sunrise. It is thought to be connected to the old Celtic festival of Lúghnasa – a harvest celebration held around August first: Lúghnasa is the Gaelic word for the month of August.

    I can’t resist a comment on Monika’s mention of that TV documentary in her comment. A story is told of two carpenters standing at a bus stop in Dublin on a Friday evening with their tools at their feet waiting for a bus to their home town far away in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland. They were speaking Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) to each other as Connemara is an area of native Irish speakers (a Gaeltacht) when a angry Dubliner stormed up to them and yelled ‘Why don’t you pair of so and so’s …. off back to your own country?’ It has been said more than once that some Irish people speak a language that the Irish do not know! 🙂 Good luck with the second year Ricky.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean,
      I should really have a party tonight as today is the first anniversary of moving to Stará Oleška 🙂

      Many European countries have festivals such as Carodejnice or the one you describe, which are pagan in origin but were then ‘Christianised’. Nowadays they are mainly seen as a good excuse for a party. But it is always interesting to understand the origin of the festival.

      I love your story in your second paragraph 🙂 Thank you for your good wishes.

  • Hello, Ricky. It’s my first time to leave a comment here but I’ve been enjoying your blog as I’m also a foreigner living in the Czech Republic.
    I’d like to ask you something. I have blog called “How to be Czech” that I write about typical Czech things. I actually named it because I have some books called ‘How to be xxx’ including ‘How to be German’. After some time I found your article ‘How to be Czech in 10 easy steps’ from 2013. I’m wondering if you don’t mind if I introduce your article on my blog as I totally agree with all of 10 steps which made me laugh! Basically I’d like to put the link and translate to my native language (Japanese) for my subscribers, and write some my opinion or experience about that. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks!

    • Ricky

      Hello Noriko! Thank you for leaving a comment here for the first time.

      You are welcome to put a back link on your blog to my post, ‘How to be Czech in 10 easy steps’, from February 2013 & provide your own translation of the text into Japanese. Thank you for taking the trouble to ask first, before doing so. I would also be interested in reading about your own opinion or experience – in English, of course 🙂

      • Thanks for your reply and letting me do that. I wrote and posted it. Here is my post automatically translated. Quality of translation is not good but you could barely understand…

        I especially agreed about Czech fashion. When I visited the Czech Republic for the first time, I was very surprised that girls show their skin too much. Now I live in a small city where you don’t have to be so fashionable, but still ladies surprise me by their sexy fashion.

        Funny thing for me is my Czech husband fits only 2 in those 10 steps. Probably he is not typical… Although most of Czechs around me fit more than 5 at least.
        Thanks for your great article. I enjoyed reading and thinking about it!

        • Ricky

          Hello again Noriko!

          Thank you for the link to a Google translate version of your post into English and for the clear back link to the original article on this blog, published back in February 2013.

          I find it interesting that you too, as a female, agree with me and my comments regarding Czech ladies and the way they dress. As I’ve written, what particularly continues to surprise me is the way many women in their forties, fifties and even sixties, happily wear mini skirts, often with hemlines that are shorter than those of their daughters. And how what you call ‘sexy fashion’, is regarded as perfectly acceptable to wear at work & not just reserved for going to a party or a romantic dinner with boyfriend/husband.

          I’m glad you really enjoyed the original article & I presume that you’ve also read the two follow up posts to which there is a link at the end of the post. You might also enjoy this post from September 2015