Walpurgis Night falls on 30 April. That’s when Sweden greets spring with fire.
Walpurgis Night – Valborg in Swedish – is a spring kick-off. On the last day of April, bonfires will be lit across the country, and songs of spring will be sung. The Walpurgis celebrations are not a family occasion but rather a public event, and local groups often take responsibility for organising them to encourage community spirit in the village or neighbourhood.
Chorals and nettle soup
Choral singing is a popular pastime in Sweden, and on Walpurgis Night virtually every choir in the country is busy. In many villages and neighbourhoods, bonfires are lit at dusk, and people gather to experience that rosy red glow in the face from the heat of the fire and the freezing cold at the back. The spring sun may keep people warm, but when it sets the nights are still chilly. Once the fire dies, many people move on to pubs and restaurants or to friends’ parties.
A dish to warm you up at a time like this is nettle soup. Nettles are, of course, a weed. They quickly appear when the snow melts, contain large amounts of iron and are best when young and fresh.
Swedish Walpurgis Night – the origins
Walpurgis was a saint who lived in Germany in the 8th century, and it was Germans who initially brought the Walpurgis Night tradition to Sweden in the Middle Ages.
Back then, the administrative year ended on 30 April. So it was very apt that this was a day of festivity among the merchants and craftsmen of the town, with trick or treat, dancing and singing in preparation for the forthcoming celebration of spring.
Among farmers and peasants, it was an important day in the calendar as the annual village meeting was held, when a new alderman was chosen and eggs and schnapps were served as refreshments. It was also at Walpurgis that farm animals were let out to graze.
Ever since the early 1700s bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators. People also fired guns, shook cowbells or yelled and screamed to keep the predators at bay.
In some parts of the country, young people went round singing May songs in return for gifts of food on Walpurgis Night. Those who gave them nothing were treated to a ‘nasty’ ditty. Elsewhere, people visited spas to drink the health-giving water and to amuse themselves.
Bring the student cap
A common sight on Walpurgis Night in Sweden are students wearing their characteristic student cap, normally white with a black peak, and sing songs of welcome to spring, to the budding greenery and to a brighter future. For upper secondary school students in their final year, Walpurgis is also an occasion to celebrate that they are about to graduate.
1st of May Day
Walpurgis Night is followed by 1 May − a public holiday in Sweden since 1939. On this traditional workers’ day the streets are usually filled with May Day demonstrations, meetings and speeches.