Walpurgis Night is the English translation of Walpurgisnacht, one of the Dutch and German names for the night of 30 April, so called because it is the eve of the feast day of Saint Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess in Francia. In Germanic folklore Walpurgisnacht, also called Hexennacht (Dutch: heksennacht; literally "Witches' Night"), is believed to be the night of a witches' meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany between the rivers Weser and Elbe. The first known written occurrence of the English translation "Walpurgis Night" is from the 19th century. Local variants of Walpurgis Night are observed across Europe in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Estonia.
The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (c. 710–777/9). As Walpurga's feast was held on 1 May (c. 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 or Hexennacht ("Witches' Night") in German, Heksennacht in Dutch Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappen in Finland Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö, (Walpurgi night) in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice and Valpuržina noc in Czech.
The Germanic term Walpurgisnacht is recorded in 1668 by Johannes Praetorius as S. Walpurgis Nacht or S. Walpurgis Abend. An earlier mention of Walpurgis and S. Walpurgis Abend is in the 1603 edition of the Calendarium perpetuum of Johann Coler, who also refers to the following day, 1 May, as Jacobi Philippi, feast day of the apostles James the Less and Philip in the Catholic calendar.
The 17th-century German tradition of a meeting of sorcerers and witches on May Day eve (Hexennacht, "Witches' Night") is influenced by the descriptions of Witches' Sabbaths in 15th- and 16th-century literature
As in all Germanic countries, Walpurgisnacht was celebrated in areas of what is now the Netherlands. It is not celebrated today due to the national Koninginnedag falling on the same date, though the new koningsdag (king's day) is on 27 April. The island of Texel celebrates a festival known as the 'Meierblis (nl)' (roughly translated as 'May-Blaze') on that same day, where bonfires are lit near nightfall, just as on Walpurgis. But with the meaning to drive away the remaining cold of winter and welcome spring. Occasional mentions to the ritual occur, and at least once a feminist group co-opted the name to call for attention to the position of women (following the example of German women's organizations), a variety of the Take Back the Night phenomenon.
Still, in recent years a renewed interest in pre-Christian religion and culture has led to renewed interest in Walpurgis Night as well. In 1999, suspicions were raised among local Reformed party members in Putten, Gelderland of a Walpurgis festival celebrated by Satanists. The party called for a ban. Whether such a festival even existed, however, and whether it was 'Satanic', was doubted by others.Rumors that Satanic sects celebrate Walpurgis Night come from other towns as well, with the local churches in Dokkum, Friesland organizing a service in 2003 to pray to the Holy Spirit to counter such Satanic action.