Sweden and Valborg

How Swedes celebrate the last day in April!

Today is April 30th and that can only mean one thing: Valborg!

Valborg, or Walpurgis Eve, is a day to welcome and celebrate spring. There is singing, dancing, and bonfires aplenty. For many, Valborg brings the much-anticipated first taste of warmer weather and the first summer feelings. For students especially, Valborg marks the near-end of school (but also the closeness of exams!). You might even see some students wearing their white sailor caps in anticipation of graduation!

Interesting in seeing how Swedes celebrate Valborg? Here is how!

Break out the song and dance!

Choral singing is already popular in Sweden, but Walpurgis Eve takes things to another level. Most choirs put on a show, so be sure to stay on the look out for your local one. If you are not sure where to look, many universities and churches have excellent choirs. And this year many choirs are live streaming their performances. Check out Lundagård in Lund!

Have a bonfire!

Dusk marks the lighting of bonfires throughout Sweden on Valborg. If you live in a larger town, see if your municipality is hosting a bonfire in a folketspark (the people’s park). They will have firefighters on-hand to make sure things don’t get out of control – perfect for those who want to celebrate with kids.

If you are looking for something a little more…rambunctious…finding a park near a university should do it. College kids definitely know how to party…and often lack a healthy fear of fire.

Tip: You may want to prepare yourself for potential disappointment in the bonfire if it has been raining! My first Valborg bonfire opportunity was unsuccessful because the wood was damp and the fire department could not get it to light! And last Valborg and this one are during coronatid so there won’t be any big gatherings.

Hopefully next year will bring a traditional Valborg experience for me! You know what they say, “Fourth time’s the charm!”

Be a student!

Valborg is especially big for university students, who see it as a chance to party all day and night. Uppsala and Lund are the two major university cities and the places to be if you want to see Valborg the student way. The party starts with a champagne breakfast with strawberries before moving outside. In Uppsala, there is a river rafting competition arranged by students and Ekonomikumparken is a popular place to spend the day. In Lund, Stadsparken is the spot. In Stockholm, Skansen (the largest outdoor zoo in Sweden) is the most popular place to spend Valborg. There are many activities throughout the day, a big bonfire, and a performance by Stockholms Studentsångare (Stockholm’s student choir), in the evening. Prepare yourself for a music festival-like atmosphere. The whole thing reminds me of Picnic Day at University of California, Davis, where I did my Bachelor studies.

Now you know how to celebrate like a Swede! Glad Valborg!

Fun Facts:

  • Why bonfires, singing, and dancing you may ask? The bonfires (majbrasor) are used to scare away witches and bad spirits, and the loudness of the singing and dancing provides protection from the evil forces.
  • Valborg is short for Valborgsmässoafton. It’s heritage is in the old Nordic female name from Saint Valborg/Walpurga.
  • Nettle soup is a classic dish for this time of year as they appear when the snow melts. Nettles contain large amounts of iron and spending the day out foraging for some young and fresh ones might be just what you need after a long winter indoors.
  • May 1st, or första maj, has been a public holiday in Sweden since 1939. It is Sweden’s labour day!
  • April 30th also happens to be the birthday of the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf!

Tess’ Tips:

  • Valborg is not meant to be celebrated with family like Christmas or Easter. It is seen as a public event so be sure to get outside and join your community members!
  • If you are out all night partying, feel secure in that you have the whole next day off from work as a public holiday.
  • But if you would rather celebrate May Day with others, look for demonstrations or parades hosted by your municipality.
  • It is still cold throughout Sweden, and especially at night! Be sure to bundle up for your adventure outside tonight!

Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!


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