The warmth of Spring showed its shy face yesterday, and we think it’s here to stay this time. We felt the sun on our faces, admired the beautiful blue skies, enjoyed the smell of barbeques cooking, saw people enjoying picnics, and soaking up the rays – sunbathing anywhere and everywhere. We spotted our favorite gelato truck and knew it is finally Spring. What perfect timing as yesterday was Valborgsmässoafton, which is the eve of Walpurgis Night – a time to welcome and embrace Spring. Thankfully it embraced us right back.
This celebration of Spring is common in many European countries but not in the States so I was very excited. The festivals are most popular in Southern Sweden (maybe because of the climate difference?) and may be influenced by the pagan Northern European traditions of May Day. Large bon fires litter the Swedish towns as the main event for the celebrations, which is said to have originated because on May 1st farm animals were allowed out to graze and fires were set in an effort to protect them from predators.
In Halmstad our bon fire is set up on the Nissan River- out of reach for any pranksters to light it early.
The band started at 7:30 and people started to gather an hour before, some early to enjoy a picnic in the park and others to grab a good spot near the river. Thousands of people show up to listen to the music, the choirs, the speech, and watch the fire burn. Traditional spring songs are a huge part of the celebration, along with the national anthem.
The speech was given by the headmaster of the university, aside from a few random words the only sentence I caught was “We hope Spring always comes back.” The first choir was students from the school, named köörmit (kör=choir, the name is a wordplay to sound like Kermit) and the second is the ‘Men Choir’- which oddly enough was lead by a women conductor.
Some examples of traditional Spring songs:
Vintern rasat ut
Vintern rasat ut bland våra fjällar,
drivans blommor smälta ned och dö.
Himlen ler i vårens ljusa kvällar,
solen kysser liv i skog och sjö.
Snart är sommarn här i purpurvågor,
ligga ängarne i dagens lågor,
och i lunden dansa källorne.
The winter raged among our peeling;
drift flowers melt down and die.
The sky smiles in the spring’s bright nights,
sun kisses lives in forests and lakes.
Soon it is summer here in purple waves,
gold coated, azur shifting
lie the meadows in today’s flames,
and in the grove the wells dance.
Majsång (Sköna maj, välkommen)
Sköna maj, välkommen till vår bygd igen!
Sköna maj, välkommen, våra lekars vän!
Känslans gudaflamma väcktes vid din ljusning;
jord och skyar stamma kärlek och förtjusning;
sorgen flyr för våren, glädje ler ur tåren,
morgonrodnad ur bekymrens moln.
Beautiful May, welcome to our area again!
Beautiful May, welcome, our playful friend!
emotions godly flame rose at your dawn;
earth and clouds stutter love and delight;
sorrow flee for spring, happy smiles from tears;
morning blush from troubled clouds.
At around 8:45 we spotted a kayak approaching with two flames, which were held by a small boy who looked very excited to light the fire. They circled and lit it from all sides- quickly plumes of smoke filled the air.
Then came the flames. Then out came the ducks! Only two or three but they swam away at full speed:
Once the fire was roaring more kayaks came to perform the torch parade. There was 10 kayaks with fire at the front and end of each. The circled the fire a few times, making different shapes and patterns.
The fire did not burn for as long as I expected, I’m sure it lasts longer in other places where this tradition is an even bigger deal such as Goteborg, Uppsala, and Lund which are known for having a large Sista April (Last Day of April) celebration including events from the graduates of their universities.
For someone who has never experienced such a celebration it was something special. What else is better than celebrating wonderful weather? This is the time when Sweden shines.
The rest of the night was celebrated with great friends and liquor, the best way to spend Valborgsmässoafton.