Saturday, May 9, 2009

Walpurg Night
This amazing bonfire was held right in the middle of Lund's City Park on the last of April. The last day of April is known as Sista April/ Valborgsmässoafton, and the following day May Day/ Valborgs dag is an official holiday in Sweden. It is a celebration of the end of the darkness. The fire is meant to drive away all aspects of the darkness, including any bad spirits, witches, and ghosts that may be hanging around. The holiday has its roots in old Scandinavian traditions, but to integrate the observance by the locals into the Catholic calendar, it was renamed Valborg/ Walpurg as a tribute to a woman named Valborg who born in 710 was later sainted on May 1st.
My prior knowledge of May 1st celebrations is based on what I know about Beltane (which means Bright Fire), the cross quarter day between Spring Equinox and summer solstice. It was the beginning of pastural season, and here in Sweden there are still rituals for the releasing of the cattle into the pastures at this time of year. I know Beltane as a time for bonfires, and as an eve to celebrate fertility. It is said that on Beltane it was good to take to the fields and have a literal romp in the hay, right there on mother earth to really drum up her creative potential. Coupling rules were suspended on Beltane, so you were invited to break convention and get physical with whoever you pleased. I'd bet any vestige of that tradition went out with the Catholic renaming of the day. At any rate, we keep getting really excited about all the holidays in Sweden and welcomed another a three day weekend! I picked up the SwedeDaddy at 4:00 Thursday April 30th at work, and the parking lot was nearly empty, just about everyone had departed early. So we learned the main way people celebrate Sista April- by cutting out early and getting the most you can from a three day weekend.

Otherwise, as we drove through the countryside, we saw many farms with large bonfires. Traditionally, the old branches and debris left from winter are burned on Sista April, and everyone revels in the light of a big old bonfire. We choose to head into Lund for the bonfire and check that out, after reading that Uppsala and Lund have the best Walpurg celebrations, as they are the big student meccas. Well, student holiday= drinking, duh. City park in Lund was PACKED, and smelled like one big beer breath. We did our best to clear space by changing a baby diaper midairs in the middle of the crowd- nothing like a nearly newborn baby with a nakey butt to send the drunken college boys back a step. We ended up with a great spot to see the enormous fire, which was most impressive! We passed up the local smaller fire in the village to attend the one in Lund. In the future, I think we will choose something more local. My friend in Torna Hallestad said there was a lovely procession of children from the town square to a fire, and the kids all got a chance to throw branches on the pile to be burned. Sounds a little more our speed. And our friends in Ystad had a nice fire on the beach. In Malmo the celebrations are city scale, but there is a good children program I hear. But if you are 19, drunk, and looking for a raging fire, I can say Lund is the place to be! As for us, we got outta the park in Lund as fast as we could, and had a good time spotting many fires that were blazing on farmland as we drove home across the countryside. I think the ideal place to be Walpurg night would be alongside a family and friends at one of the farmland fires.

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