Valborg – Sweden Welcomes the Spring

To a Brit the very mention of Bonfire Night conjures up images of burning effergies, huddling around a bonfire sheltering from the driving rain, eating jacket potatoes, crackling fireworks, and the acrid smell of sulphur

To a Brit the very mention of Bonfire Night conjures up images of burning effergies, huddling around a bonfire sheltering from the driving rain, eating jacket potatoes, crackling fireworks, and the acrid smell of sulphur – all in honour of a failed attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament. Surely only in Britain would you find such an extensive celebration of failure?

Sweden’s Bonfire Night, Valborgsmässoafton (Valborg), is a different story altogether. Valborg is the celebration of Walpurgis Night in commemoration of Saint Walpurga, an English missionary who went to Germany to evangelise to the heathens. Valborg is traditionally celebrated on April 30th or May 1st. The celebration of St. Walpurga’s eve supercedes an older pagan custom to welcome the spring and the Church has been accused of deliberately diverting attention away from pagan rituals by implanting saints days in their place.

In modern Sweden the emphasis of the Valborg celebrations certainly seems more focused on welcoming in the spring than remembrance of the Christian saint. This is a country that has lain under a thick blanket of ice and snow for over five months and at the first sight of the sun the Swedes are quick to start their spring-time celebrations. Who can blame them? This is the time of year when the flowers are starting to grow and buds are appearing back on the trees. What better reason to have a big party?

If the day is sunny, as this year’s Valborg was, then you will find Swedish parks and streets full of people of all ages, sunbathing and eating picnics. Student towns such as Lund or Uppsala draw the biggest crowds but most towns and villages will have their own events. The whole country is swept away in festive cheer. For many young people it is the first time that they will try alcohol.

As the day comes to a close huge bonfires will be lit across the country and choirs sing traditional songs, many about the spring, before bright firework displays light up the sky. To a native Brit it is nice to be able to stand around watching the display without being laden in the winter woollies that are integral to a British Bonfire Night celebration. The party will continue late into the night but those wishing to avoid the underage drinking that often occurs on this night might be best off heading home early in search of a Jacket potato!

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