St. Walpurgis’ Night

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Long before there was a Farmer’s Almanac or a Weather Channel or daily forecasts, people divided the year simply into the warm season and the cold season. May 1 was the start of the warm season and November 1, All Saints Day, was the start of the cold season. These days were understood to be liminal, or threshold, moments when, at midnight, the seasons mingled and met. In that in-between place, anything could happen. Some of that memory still infuses All-Hallows Eve, or Halloween, a day that is widely kept in the United States.

Take a picnic to the patio, the backyard or a nearby park and welcome the warm season.

Less familiar to most Americans is the European counterpart of All-Hallows Eve, St. Walpurgis’ Night, on April 30. Like St. Boniface, Walpurgis was English-born, but she devoted her life to the church in Germany. She founded religious houses and studied medicine and became known for her ability to heal the sick. After death, pilgrims came to her tomb seeking cures. Because her feast day is April 30, she became connected to the day when Europeans prepared to welcome warm weather.

The customs were many: lighting bonfires to welcome the sun, or dancing through the night in orchards and meadows. Cattle growers would build two fires and drive their cattle between them before leading the animals to the summer pastures. Take a picnic to the patio, the backyard or a nearby park and welcome the warm season. If you are not close to any green space, open the windows and welcome the warm breeze. Ask St. Walpurgis to pray for us in the summer to come, for the healing of the earth, and for an end to drought and the wildfires that threaten so much of the country.

– Melissa Musick