By: Dani Kessel
Today is a holiday, sentimental to me, which folks sadly won’t be able to celebrate this year. (Curse you, COVID-19!) Hexennacht falls on April 30th of every year. It translates into English as “Witches’ Night.” The eve of May Day symbolizes the banishing of Winter and welcoming of Spring. Witches would traditionally celebrate this renewal of the lifecycle. It is exactly 6 months separate from Halloween, and it is acknowledged as a connected holiday. In Germany, Hexennacht celebrates new life, whereas Halloween is about respect for the dead. Both traditionally involve bonfires and festivities.
I cannot express how much love I hold for Hexennacht.
Recognized in other parts of Europe as Walpurgis Day, nowadays, Germans partake in Hexennacht by pulling pranks, gathering around bonfires, and playing music. When I lived in Glan-Münchweiler, my friends and I would spend the night making mischief. It was a tradition for adolescents and teens to be carefree and chaotic for that one night. Anything that wasn’t connected to the ground was fair game; so, people hid their flower pots, trashcans, etc earlier in the day. We toilet papered trees, put shaving cream on car windows, hid things around the neighborhood, saran-wrapped our school bus. We all ran around the town for hours. Yes, we were rapscallions. It gave us a chance to bond though. (Also, we always cleaned up the neighborhood the next day or two.)
This may seem silly to people who have never experienced the holiday, but it truly holds meaning to me for its spark of youth. In that single night, it didn’t matter where we came from, what we looked like, or whether we were rich or poor. The German kids and American kids all came together. We all had this comradery. Yes, it may have been expressed in what some see as a destructive way; however, it was special.
I have fond memories of Hexennacht. It may not make sense to people outside of that culture, but it was a coming-of-age experience that I participated in for 5 years. For a teenager with a tumultuous home life, I cherished those moments. No matter what bad things were happening in my life back then (and, unfortunately, there were quite a few), I got to just be a kid without responsibilities or cares for this one night a year.
I am saddened for the kids and teens missing out on the tradition this year, especially the older teens who might not get to celebrate next year. Hopefully, they will be able to have a carefree night another time later this year.
All in all though, no matter what, I’ll always hold Hexennacht close to my heart.
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This week’s prompt question: What unusual and special traditions did you partake in during your youth?