Walpurgis Eve, April 30, is an important date in the Swedish calendar. The transition from the cold and dark winter to the bright and warm summer is celebrated with bonfires, songs and quite often a late-night party.
Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se
Walpurgis bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. On April 30, farmers used to hold their annual village meetings, let out the animals to graze and light huge fires to protect the livestock from snarling predators — and perhaps also to keep the witches at bay. Bonfires are still lit on Walpurgis Eve in essentially every town and village. (On the west coast, however, they often take place during Easter instead.)
Song is another central element of Walpurgis Eve. Nowadays, it’s quite easy to find a city bonfire has replaced the traditional choir song with pop, rock or jazz music. At more traditional gatherings and in university towns, choir is still the way to go. University towns usually excel over other cities when it comes to celebrating Walpurgis, and student choirs wearing graduation caps often strike up a tone.
Photo: p2-r2 (CC BY-NC)
If you happen to be in Uppsala, where students honor spring from early morning to late night, don’t be alarmed if you observe hundreds of rickety homemade rafts careening down the river navigated by overzealous students. This tradition began in the mid-1970s and attracts roughly 30,000 spectators each year. Impressively, the race has started to attract student racers from universities abroad.
Photo: Lena Dahlström (CC BY-NC-ND)
One event that definitely stops the party from getting out of control is the public holiday that follows on the morning after Walpurgis Eve — May 1, or Labor Day, with massive demonstrations in support of workers’ rights. Somehow, a lot of younger Swedes manage to participate fully in both holidays. Perhaps the spring sun has something to do with it.
Rikard Lagerberg is a writer and editor who has spent most of his adult life in the US and in Ireland. Returning to Sweden he discovered a new curiosity for his native country and its traditions.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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