Archive for April, 2012

It’s Walpurgis Night!

April 30, 2012

The witches are abroad again!

It’s April 30. Happy Walpurgis Night, my friends!

Here, on the far side of The Pond, we’re missing out on some great fun.  How about we bring back some of the old world traditions of tonight and tomorrow?

Tomorrow is May Day, also called Beltane, throughout much of Europe.  Tonight, Walpurgis Night, is the eve of Beltane, the joyful festival of growth and fecundity that heralds the arrival of summer. It is the festival of the ‘Good Fire’ or ‘Bel-fire’, named after the solar deity Bel.

Lighting fires was customary at Beltane, and traditionally a Beltane fire was composed of the nine sacred woods of the Celts. All hearth fires were extinguished on Beltane Eve and then kindled again from the sacred “need fires” lit on Beltane. People would leap through the smoke and flames of Beltane fires and cattle were driven through them for purification, fertility, prosperity and protection.

It is a traditional time for Handfastings (marriages), and was a time for couples to make love outside to bless the crops and the earth. Maypoles were often danced around at Beltane to bring fertility and good fortune. The ribbons which were wrapped around the pole by the dancers brought a  sense of the integration of male and female archetypes, mirroring the union between the God and the Goddess. Beltane lore also includes washing in May-day dew for beauty and health, and scrying in sacred waters or crystal balls.

But that’s tomorrow. Tonight, exactly six months’ distant from All Hallows’ Eve, the supernatural once again rules. On Walpurgis Night, witches ride their broomsticks through the sky, and the natural world is forced to confront the powers of the supernatural. According to ancient legend, this night was the last chance for witches and their nefarious cohorts to stir up trouble before Spring reawakened the land.

Like Halloween, Walpurgis has its roots in ancient pagan customs, superstitions and festivals. At this time of year, the Vikings participated in a ritual that they hoped would hasten the arrival of Spring weather and ensure fertility for their crops and livestock. They lighted huge bonfires in hopes of scaring away evil spirits.

Saint Walpurga

The name “Walpurgis” comes from a woman named Valborg who founded the Catholic convent of Heidenheim in Wurtemburg, Germany. She later became a nun and was known for speaking out against witchcraft and sorcery. She was canonized Saint Walpurga on May 1, 779. The celebration of her sainthood and the old Viking festival occurred around the same time; over the years the festivals and traditions intermingled until the hybrid pagan-Catholic celebration became known as Walpurgis Night.

In Germany, the witches were said to congregate on Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains – a tradition that comes from Goethe’s Faust.  Brocken is also known for the phenomenon of the Brocken Spectre, the magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low.

A scene in Faust Part One is called “Walpurgisnacht”, and one in Faust Part Two is called “Classical Walpurgisnacht”. The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is also called “Walpurgisnacht”. In Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Act Two is entitled “Walpurgisnacht”.

In some parts of Germany, the custom of lighting huge fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called “Easter fires.”

The Czech Republic celebrates April 30 as the “burning of the witches” when winter is ceremonially brought to the end by the burning of rag and straw witches or just broomsticks on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire.

In Estonia, they call it Volbriöö and celebrate throughout the night of April 30 and into the early hours of May 1, a public holiday called “Spring Day.”  Here too, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

In Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, a big carnival-style festival that begins on April 30 and carries over to May 1. They drink large quantities of sima, sparkling wine, and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Since the end of the 19th century, students and university alumni wear a cap; some caps, such as worn by engineering students and nurses, have pom-poms hanging from them.  In Helsinki, and its surrounding region, they have the fixtures include the capping (on 30 April at 6 pm) of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue.  

Bonfire at Valborg, Sweden

In Sweden, it’s all but an official holiday. Walpurgis Night bonfires, which are supposed to be kindled by striking two flints together, are seen on many hills. Farm animals are let out to graze, and the bonfires are meant to scare away predators.  Singing traditional songs of spring is widespread throughout the country.  During the day, people gather in parks, drink considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages, barbecue and generally enjoy the weather.

So how about it? We deserve this kind of celebration too! Let’s cast a vote for the first presidential candidate who promises to declare Walpurgis Night a national holiday in America!

An Address to the National Champions

April 15, 2012

Master of Ceremonies’ greeting to Boston College hockey team at its annual Pike’s Peak Club Awards Banquet.

January 21st.  It was a long bus ride home from Orono. Two straight losses, six in the preceding ten games. It was the winter of our discontent.

But now, is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by these sons of York.

Not only do we have the Iliad of Homer to guide us. William Shakespeare is a fan too. And he had Boston College in mind when he wrote, “This story shall the good man teach his son.”

This story – that we’ll retell today – is the marvelous and inspiring tale of the Boston College Eagles, 2011-2012. It will be told as long as ice hockey is played in Boston.

I thank the Pike’s Peak Club for once again allowing me to serve as your Master of Ceremonies. I’ve been around Boston College hockey since 1968, did seven seasons on radio color, and the last 26 as your p.a announcer. In football, it’s been 36 seasons.

Over all that time I’ve felt privileged to be able to play any kind of role in presenting to the world the grand and glorious enterprise that is Boston College sports. I usually speak to you from far away.  This afternoon, we’re face-to-face, and it’s a thrill for me to be here.

And I think that I’ll be doing more than speaking to you. I’ll be speaking for you. And for the 160,000 living alumni of Boston College. And for all those alumni who have gone before us and are now watching with pride from the Second Balcony.

Gentlemen, you’ve brought home to the Heights yet another national championship. You have heard, and heeded, the motto of your University, taken from the words of Homer’s wise man Nestor. You remember!

The Trojan War was going poorly – rather like the hockey season back in January. Nestor comes to the tent and reminds the great warrior Achilles of the teachings of Peleus, Achilles’ father: “Fight ever amongst the foremost. Outvie your peers. Aien aristeuein.”

Ever to Excel. Our motto. Your watchword. All Boston College people aspire to it. You show us how it’s done.

The annual Pike’s Peak Hockey Banquet recognizes and honors the heroes of the present day. We also take this opportunity to remember and salute the memory of many individuals whose names you’ll be hearing in a little while when we present the named awards. They are giants of eras past, and they are still with us as we meet today and celebrate our national championship.

Pike’s Peak, as we know, towers over Colorado Springs. That was almost a second home to Boston College. In the first eight years of the NCAA Championship Tournament at the old Broadmoor World Arena, the Eagles made it five times. The Pike’s Peak Club founders were all players who’d themselves been to that mountain and once, in 1949, made it all the way to the top.

This year, for the third time in five, you’ve scaled that mountain. You stand on top, as national champions. And as a Boston College man, I’m especially proud and grateful to you for doing it this year. It is very important, and most fitting, that a team that represents Boston College achieved a national championship in 2012.

Why do I say that?

This past 12 months or so was not a particularly good time for the world of sports. Some of the news we heard – and continue to hear – ranged from mildly disconcerting to downright distressing. It was everywhere; in professional, college, and high school ranks. Maybe, in some people’s minds, sport wasn’t worth all the attention we pay to it.

And then, along comes Boston College hockey. Banishing the January doldrums and never tasting defeat again. Your victory march did so much to set things right. It’s not only for your fans and the people of your school. It’s for everyone who knows and loves athletic competition. For everyone who values sportsmanship and fair play.

We all know Grantland Rice’s famous line, “When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes, not that you won or lost, But how you played the game.”

We generally quote Mr. Rice following a gallant try that ends up in defeat. Not this time. It was not that you won. It was how you did it…with speed and grace and skill. But more importantly, with dignity and class.

You’ve restored the faith of the entire sporting world. And now they look to you, just as they looked to Governor John Winthrop’s Boston, the shining City on a Hill. You’ve shown them just what a winner is, what a winner can be, what a winner should be. That winner is Boston College.

To repeat something I said a year ago…Boston College hockey is the gold standard, the acme, the epitome of all that’s best in college athletics. I’m convinced that there is no academic pursuit, no student activity, no administrative function, no alumni undertaking, that can proclaim to the world, as proudly and as surely who we of Boston College are, and what we believe in, as our athletic program. And especially, our hockey program.

Your story is that story which the good man will teach his son. And those sons who don the gold sweater and lace up the skates in years to come will remember it. They’ll strive to meet those standards, both athletic and personal, that you have set. That will be your lasting legacy.

I’ll conclude with a personal note, and an echo of another old favorite. I always dreamed of being a great athlete. Who doesn’t?  But I wasn’t, so I had my heroes. And I want you to know you’re my heroes. You’re everything that I’d like to be.

Because nothing flies higher than an Eagle.