The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (ca. 710–777/9). As Walpurga was canonized on 1 May (ca. 870), she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars. The eve of May Day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurga’s night”). The name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish.

The 17th century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day is influenced by the descriptions of Witches’ Sabbaths in 15th and 16th century literature.

One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom that is most firmly established in Svealand and may have begun in Uppland during the 18th century: “At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze and, ever since the early 18th century, bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators.

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