A witch burning seems appropriate

“Now that we’re inside, I just don’t want to move anymore,” I say, sprawled out on my unmade bed (sorry, Mom, some habits die hard). Hosanna, my childhood friend, bosom buddy and fellow expat, throws something solid at me and tells me to get up.
We’ve both had a long day – I’ve been teaching and she’s been on a train. We’re both tired and feel slightly disgusting. But today is also April 30 and we’re in the Czech Republic, which means something very specific: Witch burnings are afoot.
Hosanna is fidgeting with her GoPro camera and I am still trying to pull myself back up to my feet.IMG_7159
“Should I bring a jacket?” Hosanna asks.
“No,” I respond. “It’ll stay warm.”
That’s the whole point. Today is Pálení čarodějnic – in English that translates into “burning of the witches.” The ceremony is an age-old tradition that ushers in the year’s warm weather by burning effigies of witches, thereby ending the spell of winter. Prague has been gearing up for the ritual all day. Children left school early to help build pyres to light in their neighborhoods, and as I rode into the city center to pick up Hosanna I saw girls with witches hats and black make-up.
By the time Hosanna and I reached Zbraslav at 8:30 the air was hazy with smoke and we could see huge fires burning across the river.
Many people lit fires in their yards and gathered around with friends and family. We, however, wanted to find the BIG fires – the neighborhood celebration that brings the community together. We do not do things as small communities much where I come from. We definitely do not burn witches. So tonight is a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience and I did not want to miss it.
This is the thought that finally pulls me out of my slump and pushes us out the door.
Nine o’clock in late April is milky blue and speckled with stars. Visibility is decent on the street, but when we turn into the forest we step into a soft darkness that makes us giggly.
It’s nice catching up with my oldest friend. She tells me about her travels and I tell her about teaching.
“Do you know where we’re going?” she finally asks.
“Nope,” I say, reviving our nervous giggles. Occasionally we pass couples or small groups and I take that to mean we’re headed in the right direction. So we keep walking up the hill, into the forest. Continue reading