Celebrate Spring like a Swede, the Tradition of Walpurgis NightApril 26, 2017
Nothing says “spring is here” more than outdoor festivities, get-togethers, fireworks and tall bonfires to ward off witches and evil spirits. Yes, we said bonfires to ward off witches and evil spirits – Happy Valborgmässoafton, or Valborg for short, also known as Walpurgis Night.
Walpurgis Night falls on the last day of April and on the eve of when Saint Walpurga (Saint Valborg) was canonized by Pope Adrian II. On the Swedish calendar, Walpurga’s canonization became associated with May Day and the coming of spring. The origins and traditions of Walpurgis Night vary from country to country in Europe and in different regions of Sweden, but what remains consistent are the bonfires and celebrations to welcome warmer weather and longer days.
Warding off evil with bonfires
Walpurgis Night isn’t complete without a tall, crackling bonfire. Today, it’s typical to roast marshmallows and hotdogs and enjoy the warmth of the fire during the chilly spring night, but the traditional bonfire was once a way to ward off the unwanted. In German folklore, Walpurgis Night is called Walpurgisnacht, which translates to “witches’ night” and is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting. In Sweden, Walpurgis Night is the day to celebrate spring and the ending of the dark winter days, which many, according to Real Scandinavia, believed was a day evil spirits were active. Farmers also let their livestock out to graze on this night. The bonfires were a way to ward off superstitious predators like spirits and witches and real predators like wolves who would come after the grazing livestock.
A national holiday in Sweden, Labor Day
Since 1939, May 1 has been declared a national holiday – Labor Day – giving Swedes even more of an excuse to let
loose, relax and partake in the Walpurgis Night activities. Today, Walpurgis Night festivities in Sweden vary from city to city and cater to all ages. Skansen, an open-air museum, hosts the largest celebration in Stockholm, and university students enjoy the local night life in Uppsala and Lund. Some break out their grills for the first cookout of the year, and public bonfires, carnivals and other fun events are found in most any city. Walpurgis Night also lands on King Carl XVI Gustaf’s birthday, and Swedes show their respect by hanging Swedish flags.
Celebrate Walpurgis in your backyard
There is no wrong way to celebrate Walpurgis Night and it’s a fun tradition making its way around the world. This year, round up friends and family for a backyard bonfire, throw on this Walpugis Night playlist Swedish for Professionals created on Spotify and don’t forget the food! Scandifoodi has a great recipe for Walpurgis Donut Holes. Another dish to celebrate with? Nettle soup, made with a weed that can be abundant once the snow melts. Not much of a host? Join one of the events being hosted in major cities throughout the United States. If you’re in upstate New York, stop by Stout Beard Brewing Company for the May Day/Walpurgis Release Festival for a beer release and pig roast. If you’re in San Diego, stop by Mission Point where the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Valborg bonfire on the beach.
Whatever you do, as long as you’re enjoying yourself and welcoming spring around a fire, you’re doing it right.