After writing about two major holidays in Sweden – Midsummer and Christmas – it is time for me to discover another special day in this Nordic country. Or perhaps it’s better to say a special night since this kind of celebration usually starts while the sun is setting down.
I am talking about Walpurgis Night, which falls on the 30th of April. I actually heard of this event for the first time two years ago, when Matt sent me video clips of the celebrations he had attended, while he was still living in Sweden.
Incidentally, the King of Sweden celebrates his birthday on the same day, so it is a double event for the country, with official celebrations held outside the Royal Palace in Stockholm.
But back to Walpurgis Night: what is it exactly and how do the Swedes celebrate it?
What is Walpurgis Night?
The name of this holiday comes from Saint Walpurga, an English saint who was canonised on the 1st of May, and therefore she is tied with the May Day eve.
Walpurgis Night is celebrated in various European countries: Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, and the Baltic countries. According to German folklore, on this night there is a large gathering of witches on the highest peak of the Harz mountains, waiting for spring to arrive.
In Sweden, this particular holiday is more known as Valborgsmässoafton, or Valborg in short. It has no connection with Christian saints or German witches. It is just the night on which people celebrate the arrival of spring and the lengthening of the day, with the evening sky remaining lighted longer.
How do the Swedes celebrate?
Bonfires are the most characteristic aspect of this celebration. In city parks and towns all over Sweden, these bonfires are set up in public places when the sun is starting to set down. People of all ages gather around these fires to drink and to listen to choirs singing old traditional songs.
This holiday is also closely associated with university students, particularly those from the old universities of Lund and Uppsala, each of whom has its own traditions. Walpurgis Night symbolically represents freedom for these students who are nearing the end of their terms.
In any case, this celebration is more of a community activity than a family one. Despite there being child-friendly events, it is still common for people to drink and party all night long, since the next day is another official holiday.
The first of May is traditionally known as May Day and spring celebrations are held in various countries. In Sweden, it all just happens the day before. Yet, it is also the International Workers’ Day, both in Sweden and in many other nations around the world. On this day, the most passionate of Swedes might attend street demonstrations.
In Malta, we have no official spring celebrations. For us, May 1st is commonly known as Workers’ Day or with the religious name of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of workers. A political mass meeting is usually held in the capital city. Other than that, there are some clubbing events on the day or on the eve.
Well, what can I say? The idea of attending a nature-inspired celebration is tantalising for me, since we have nothing of that sort in my country. I hope that someday I will be able to stand near a bonfire on Walpurgis Night.