The Witches’ Assembly

December 23, 1930May 1st is a special day in the good ole CR.

 On the eve of this lovely day, Czechs all over this land build a teepee of twigs, leaves and branches they have raked up in their backyards and burn it, which is called ‘burning a witch.’ This tradition comes from an old belief that burning a witch warded off the witches who were en route on April 30th to the witch’s assembly, at which they played Mahjong, drank brandy stingers and talked about their ligament pains.

 The only witches’ assemblies these days are on midday trams and on balconies amid a hanging assortment of massive panties and bloomers.

May 1st employs a different tradition. Girls stand under cherry trees in the hopes of getting kissed. This kissing is supposed to ward off barrenness and keep the girls puckered, rosy, fertile and nature loving.

Like many of the Czech traditions, these would not fly in the U.S. If these traditions even thought of occurring in the United States they would be deemed sexist, witchist, and anti-arboreal. This is one reason I love them.

Another reason I love these traditions is because they are so Czech. And getting kissed under a tree is at least the second Czech tradition which focuses on fertility.

The Czechs are internationally known as a people whose women are beautiful and whose men wear socks with sandals. And this is true, but in terms of family the Czechs are traditional people. This has been my general assessment anyway, so I test the waters in some classes on Tuesday to see if my notions hold true.

Class one, 13:45 Tuesday afternoon. I start out with a casual question to get things moving. All students are women. “So are you ladies going to wait under some cherry trees tomorrow?”

Student 1, two nanoseconds after my question: “Yes.”

Student 2: “I have a friend who gets drunk and hangs out under the plastic cherry trees in front of the mall.”

Student 1: “Does it work?”

Student 2: “Of course it does.”

Student 1: “Hm…”

Student 3: “I won’t do it. I don’t like trees.”

Student 1: “Aren’t you afraid you’ll dry up?”

Student 3: “No.” She has not removed her eyes from her IPhone since arriving in the classroom. 

Later in the day, my second class; I ask the same question.

Student 1: “Yes, of course.”

Student 2: “I have a boyfriend.”

Student 1: “You didn’t answer the question.”

Student 2: “Of course I am going to do it, I want to be fertile.” Fertile is pronounced fer-TILE

Me: “Oh, so you’d like to have children?”  

Student 1 and 2 say “Yes,” in unison, as though they are reading the word from a script, performing at a play with the word ‘Monologues’ in the title with clothing by Sharon Stone and hair by Jane Lynch. 

Student 1: “I want to be married and have children before I am 25. I am getting so old.”

“How old are you?” I ask.

“Twenty one,” she says. And then, “Are you crying?”

“Not really crying…”

Student 2: “I will have children before I am 27.”

“How many?”

“There will be four,” she says. “Two boys and two girls.”

Student 1 nods. “That’s nice; I will have three.” She looks at me. “Do you want kids?”




“Is your girlfriend happy about this?”

“She doesn’t know yet.”


I leave for the day and hop the tram to meet my friends at a pub. There are witches being burned in various backyards along my way. For the most part, the evidence is inconclusive. There are somewhat traditional thoughts, but certainly not unanimous.

I guess the girls in the Czech Republic want what all girls their age want: to stay 21 years old forever. But they know that whether it’s on a balcony or in a midday tram, there’s a witch assembly waiting for them.

If they’re lucky, there will be brandy stingers and Mahjong too.

  1. #1 by greg galeone on May 2, 2013 - 4:20 am

    damo-thoroughly enjoyed the article. today I learned a bit of Czech folklore-and in an enjoyable read-thanks-dad.

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