Valborg is the name of the 30th of April in Sweden. In Sweden, this is celebrated by lighting bonfires (majbrasor) all around the country in the evening, and people gather to watch the bonfires. Some places have fireworks (fyrverkerier). Once the bonfire is lit, it is traditional for a men’s choir (manskör) to sing traditional songs about the spring, and for someone to hold a speech.
Valborg got its name from an Anglo-Saxon missionary, who lived during the 700th century BC. According to legend, she was an English princess who were called to Germany to help evangelise the pagan Germans. She was made a saint year 870, and during medieval times, a cult developed in her memory. This cult believed in protecting themselves from witchcraft, and in order to protect themselves from witches, people started to light bonfires in Germany.
In Sweden, people thought that the night between 30th of April and 1st of May was a magical night, when witches and other magical beings appeared to meet the Devil. Therefore, they lit bonfires and made noises to try and scare the beings away.
It also happens to be the birthday of the Swedish King – Carl XVI Gustaf!
Grattis kungen! Grattis på födelsedagen!
Valborg is one of the main days of festivities at universities and colleges, as this is the time when the students put on their traditional student caps (which marks the end of the final exam periods and the beginning of celebrations). In university cities, especially Uppsala and Lund, the whole day is packed with activities and celebrations and begin already in the morning with champagne breakfast in nearby parks.
A special tradition in Saxdalen
In my little tiny village (Saxdalen, Dalarna) where I grew up, we have a very special and unique tradition. We create a gigantic snowman, transport him around the village on a tractor in a tractor parade, and then put him on top of the bonfire and burn him! ? Partly inspired by a Swiss tradition, apparently. The tradition has been going since the 1960’s. In this beautiful video, you can see what it’s all about.
The most traditional song is “Vintern rasat” (it’s actually called “Längtan till landet” but it most known by its first two words: Vintern rasat). Herman Sätherberg (1812-1897) wrote the lyrics and the music was written by Otto Lindblad (1809-1864).
Swedish and English lyrics (translation from semiswede) – and here you can listen to a performance of the song.
Vintern rasat ut bland våra fjällar,
Winter stormed out among our mountains,
drivans blommor smälta ned och dö.
snow drifts melt down and die.
Himlen ler i vårens ljusa kvällar,
The sky smiles in spring’s bright evenings
solen kysser liv i skog och sjö.
The sun kisses life into the forest and lake.
Snart är sommarn här i purpurvågor,
Soon summer is here in purple waves,
ligga ängarne i dagens lågor,
lie meadows in daylit flames (strong sunlight on a spring day),
och i lunden dansa källorne.
and in the grove dance källorne (the light streams and dances).
Ja, jag kommer! Hälsen, glada vindar,
Yes, I’m coming! Greetings, cheerful winds,
ut till landet, ut till fåglarne,
out to the country, out to the birds,
att jag älskar dem, till björk och lindar,
that I love, to birch and linden trees,
sjö och berg, jag vill dem återse,
lake and mountain, I want them see again,
se dem än som i min barndoms stunder
see them like in my childhood memories
följa bäckens dans till klarnad sjö,
follow the dancing creek to the clear lake,
trastens sång i furuskogens lunder,
the thrush’s song in the pine forest groves,
vattenfågelns lek kring fjärd och ö.
waterfowl play around the bay and island.