23rd June 2019

Valborg / Walpurgis – 30 April

Today 30 April is what we Swedes know as Valborgsmässafton or Walpurgis Eve. While the name Walpurgis is taken from the eighth-century English missionary Saint Walburga, “Valborg”, as it is called in Swedish, has very little to do with religion and everything to do with the arrival of spring. The forms of celebration vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Walpurgis celebrations are not a family occasion but rather a public event,.

In the Middle Ages, the administrative year ended on 30 April. Accordingly, this was a day of festivity among the merchants and craftsmen of the town, Walpurgis bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze and bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) lit to scare away predators.

Choir singing is a very popular pastime in Sweden, and on Walpurgis Eve virtually every choir in the country is busy. Singing traditional songs of spring is widespread throughout the country. The songs are mostly from the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, such as Uppsala and Lund, where undergraduates, graduates, and alumni gather at events that last most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30th, or siste april (“The Last Day Of April”) as it is called in Lund, or sista april as it is called in Uppsala. In Uppsala the vice-chancellor of the University will come out on the balcony of Carolina Rediviva at 3.00 pm sharp and don his white cap. This will give the signal to all the students gathered to do the same. Singing will start to welcome spring (even if it very cold) as for students, Walpurgis Eve heralds freedom. Exams are over and only the odd lecture remains before term ends.

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