Location: Brocken, Harz Mountains, Germany

Dates:
 30 April

Description: What better way to see out April than on a mountain top in the company of witches and warlocks. According to local mythology, said witches and warlocks gather on Walpurgisnacht (which takes its name from Saint Walburga, whose feast day is 1 May) at locations throughout the Harz Mountains before flying off to 1142m Brocken on broomsticks or goats. There they recount the year’s evil deeds and top off the stories with a bacchanalian frenzy, said to represent copulation with the devil. Frightened peasants used to hang crosses and herbs on stable doors to protect their livestock; ringing church bells or cracking whips were other ways to prevent stray witches from dropping by. Today, however, people come to be with the witches not to escape them.

One of the best places to celebrate Walpurgisnacht is the town of Thale, where not-so-pagan hordes of 35,000 or more arrive for colourful variety events and the Walpurgishalle museum tells you all you need to know about sacrifices, rituals and local myths. People dress as witches and toss away all reserve as they dance around fires. Wherever you are, expect to see the dawn in with some very strange characters!

If it wasn’t enough that one mountain should claim to be haunted, there are other such Walpurgisnacht events elsewhere in Europe. In the Czech Republic the local variation is Carodejnice (Burning of the Witches), which sees huge bonfires lit all over the country (including on Pet?ín hill in Prague) and an effigy of a witch thrown onto the pyres. Old brooms are also burnt and there’s partying through the night.

Sweden, too, has a few witches in the broom closet. Here, the celebration is known as the Feast of Valborg and is nowadays treated more as a spring welcome than a time of witches, being marked with bonfires and choral singing across the country. The largest celebration is in Stockholm’s Skansen open-air museum, where a festive concert runs from mid-afternoon to around midnight. In Gothenburg, students from the Chalmers University have for the last century conducted the Cortège parade, with floats showing mock scenes from major events over the past year. More than 200,000 people line the streets to view the parade.

Essentials: In the Harz Mountains, the town of Schierke is the best starting point for Walpurgisnacht treks to the Brocken. The Cortège parade in Gothenburg is alcohol free.

Safety Tips From The World Nomads Travel Safety Team:

Germany’s festivals are well known for being some of the safest in the world. However, don’t annoy a witch or she will turn you into a newt!

Local Attractions: In Thale, the wooden museum Walpurgishalle has exhibitions and paintings on all matters heathen (the interpretations are in German only), including the Opferstein, a stone once used in Germanic sacrificial rituals. In Gothenburg, head to Liseberg, one of the world’s largest amusement parks, with 35 stomach-churning rides.

More Info:
 Harzer Verkehrsverband (www.harzinfo.de); Gothenburg Tourist Office (www.goteborg.com); Czech Tourism (www.czec htourism.com)

Location: Fair Grounds, New Orleans, USA

Dates: Last weekend of April and first weekend of May

Description: Where else would you want your jazz than in the city that spawned it? After Mardi Gras, ‘Jazz Fest’ is New Orleans’ second-biggest reason to party, a feel-good musical smorgasbord served up on more than 10 stages across two weekends.

Jazz Fest began as a celebration of the city’s 250th birthday in 1968, an event that attracted musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck. After struggling with poor attendance, it moved to the Fair Grounds in 1972 and began showcasing different musical forms in addition to its staple jazz. The event boomed and continues to do so, with headline acts in 2007 alone including Norah Jones, Van Morrison, Harry Connick Jr, Rod Stewart, ZZ Top and Steely Dan.

The Fair Grounds are open 11am to 7pm, but Jazz Fest continues well into the wee hours in bars and clubs throughout the city.

Essentials:
 The festival schedule comes out in January, and it’s wise to make reservations early – entry is by daily tickets. Bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, a hat, some water and a blanket for chilling out between concerts.

Local Attractions:
 Jazz up your day further by visiting the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park in the French Quarter, recounting the history and culture of the music.

More Info:
 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival ( +1…; www.nojazzfest.com)

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Dates: 
30 April (if 30 April is a Sunday it’s celebrated on 29 April)

Description: Birthday celebrations for queens are supposed to involve tea and polite conversation, but the Dutch like to give their queen a more rollicking party. This nationwide holiday honours Queen Beatrix (though it’s held on the birth date of her mother Queen Juliana) and in Amsterdam in particular it’s a crazy, wonderful madhouse celebration. There’s a free market throughout the city (anyone can sell anything they like), street parties, live music, dense crowds and lots of beer. The canals fill with boats and the streets with people, who come from all around the country and beyond. The entire city is given over to partying, so that it’s a rambling, disorganised, exhilarating day in the city streets, which are all but turned orange as people wear anything and everything in that colour. This is less because it’s the national colour than the fact that the Queen’s royal lineage goes back to William of Orange. Happy birthday, ma’am.

When: April 30
Where: Edinburgh, UK

The modern Beltane Fire Festival is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane which began on the evening before May 1 and marked the beginning of summer. The modern festival was started in 1988 by a small group of enthusiasts including the musical collective Test Dept, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then the festival has grown, and as of 2006 involved over 300 voluntary collaborators and performers with the 11500 available tickets selling out.

It is important to remember that while the festival draws on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences the organisers do not claim it to be anything other than a modern celebration of Beltane, evolving with its participants.

Fire festival dancers, 2006

The current Beltane was started in 1988 by a small group of enthusiasts including Angus Farquhar of the musical collective Test Dept., choreographer Lindsay John, and dancers from Laban, as well as academics from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. The event was intended as a celebration and also a protest against the then Thatcher government’s restrictions on rights to gather. Originally intended to take place on Arthur’s Seat, the home of earlier Edinburgh Beltane celebrations, for practical reasons the location was moved to Calton Hill. Choreography, iconography and performance were moulded by the originators’ research into historical accounts of Beltane and their own influences (e.g. Test Department’s drumming, Trinidadian carnival, and ritual dance and performance).

The Beltane Fire Society, a registered charity which runs the festival, is managed by a democratically elected voluntary committee, and all the performers are volunteers who either join by word of mouth or by attending one of the advertised open meetings held early in the year. Senior performers and artists in the society help others through workshops with aspects of event production, prop construction, character performance techniques, team building, percussion skills and the health and safety considerations involved. The society has also held fundraising art and music events and has held a ‘mini-Beltane’ at a local AIDS Hospice, Milestone House.

As a community event, each year the performance has evolved as new people bring their own influences and directions. The core narrative remains by and large the same though additional elements have been added over time for theatrical, ritual, and practical reasons. Originally an event with a core of a dozen performers and a few hundred audience, the event has grown to several hundred performers and over ten thousand audience. Key characters within the performance are maintained, though reinterpreted by their performers, and additional participants incorporated each year.

Originally, the festival was free and only lightly stewarded, however, as the event has grown in popularity, due to the capacity of the hill, funding requirements, and Edinburgh Council requests, the festival has in recent years moved to being a ticketed event.