A sloppy fanfare alerted those of us still leaning against the bar that the procession had assembled. Out in the brewery courtyard, the cart was being loaded with village children, the horses raring to go. The gaggle of musicians with their tarnished brass instruments and feathered hats struck up a marching beat, led by an old man with a washboard. The masked men gathered in front of the cart – devils, goats, horses and fantastical beasts, and lifted Death high into the air.
We were all here, in this tiny village on the outskirts of Prague, with two missions in mind: to carry Death beyond the village border, that he might cease to bring fear to this time of merriment, and to get royally drunk while doing so.
As it turned out, the latter was more easily achieved than we could ever have imagined. As we followed the villagers on their slow-winding march through residential streets and farmland, we were surprised when the entire procession stopped dead. Pushing through the crowd to see what the obstruction was, we came upon a simple folding table left in the middle of the road, covered in donuts, cured meat and shots of local spirits. We stayed until the table was bare, then the band struck up once more and we continued our celebratory shuffling.
Over the course of a three or four-hour walk (or dance) we came across several more ‘magic tables’, as well as people passing shots through their windows as we passed, and a few families who invited the entire procession to share a drink in their gardens. At one delirious point we found ourselves knocking back rough hunter’s rum on a stranger’s porch with a werewolf and a demon horse, neither of whom spoke a word of English.
The final leg of Death’s journey took on a more somber tone – passing by the village’s graveyard, the musicians fell into a wicked jazz rendition of the funeral march, and we stomped along behind them, feeling voodoo close at hand. At last we passed the boundary, and wound our way to the crest of the hill that marked it only to be met by the Death-carrying procession from the neighboring village.
Before we quite knew what was happening, we were ushered into a massive circle, both parades now mingled in an explosion of colour and liquor. As the sun set, two men dressed as bears wrestled for their village pride – nobody could say who won, but the dancing and celebration lasted long into the night.