Glad Valborg!

01.14 Onsdag, 1 Maj, 2013

This past Tuesday was a festival known as Valborg (the English name is Walpurgis).  This festival is celebrated in several countries in northern Europe, but especially in Sweden.  Valborg is a celebration of the beginning of Spring, and it occurs on April 30 every year.  The most famous Valborg celebration occurs in the city of Uppsala, about 40 minutes north of Stockholm by train.  Uppsala is a university town, home to the well-known Uppsala University (as well as many famous people, such as Anders Celcius), and since it is not a very large city, the percentage of students there is very large, which makes for some pretty big parties.  So, naturally, it is common for students from Stockholm to go to Uppsala for Valborg to join in the party, and my corridor was no exception!  We took the train to Uppsala in the morning and came back in the evening, around 22.

In Sweden, the traditional way of celebrating Valborg is by eating strawberries and herring, drinking champagne, and having bonfires.  The festivities in Uppsala does have some of these elements, but there are also some other events that occurred throughout the day.

In the morning, when we arrived, there was a boat race going on.  Homemade boats, that is.  People had built boats out of wood and styrofoam and decorated them with different themes and were riding them down the river.  Since the river was fast-moving and the boats were not really built to last, most of them were missing large chunks before they even got to the two meter waterfall at the end!  I don’t think any of the participants were seriously trying to win the race, but it was fun to watch!


This boat is missing something…


[What was left of] Most of the boats survived the waterfall pretty well

After watching the boats for a while, we walked around the town to see what else was going on and do some sightseeing.  Uppsala has a castle on top of a hill in the center of town and is also home to the largest cathedral in Scandinavia.

Uppsala Slott

Uppsala Slott

Uppsala Domkyrka

Uppsala Domkyrka

Eventually, we made our way to a large open park, where thousands of people were picnicking.  Since we had brought our lunch with us, we set up and had a picnic also!  I left the picnic a little early to go watch a friend play in a concert on the steps of the Uppsala University library.  It turns out that I showed up at the right place for the main event of the day!  While the band was playing, there was a countdown displayed on a screen on the front of the building.  The clock was counting down to 15.00, which is when Uppsala officially welcomes the coming of Spring.  So, by the time the band finished playing, a huge crowd had gathered in front of the building, and there were people sticking their heads out of the windows and standing on the balconies, and the flags of the Uppsala ‘nations’ were marched up the steps (as far as I can tell, Uppsala ‘nations’ are roughly comparable to Hogwarts houses).  When the countdown reached zero and the clocked struck 15.00, the whole crowd began cheering and waving their sailor hats in the air.  At least, they look like sailor hats; in Sweden, students wear these hats when they graduate, and apparently for Valborg as well.  It turns out that this event is called mösspåtagningen, or ‘the putting on of the hats,’ which is a reference to the fact that a long time ago, when Swedish students were required to wear uniforms, they would change from their dark winter uniform to their white summer uniform on Valborg, and this involved putting on a white hat.

Picnic in Ekonomikum Parken

The big picnic

Waving the hats


Glad Vår!

Glad Vår! (Happy Spring!)

After the mösspåtagning, I met up with some other friends, and we took the bus out to Gamla [Old] Uppsala, the ancient settlement a few kilometers outside of town where Vikings lived and where there are large burial mounds commemorating the ancient Viking kings.  We had a nice walk around here, which was a good break from the crowds in the city.

Kungshögarna in Gamla Uppsala

The royal burial mounds in Gamla Uppsala

After we returned to the center of town, I spent the rest of the evening just walking around the town with different groups of friends.  There was plenty of live music throughout the day, and many parties going on throughout the city.  However, since we had not bought visitor passes, we couldn’t really go to any of the main parties, so we left around 21 to head back to Stockholm.  Unfortunately, we did not find any bonfires to attend that night, but we did build our own the following day (which was May 1, a public holiday in Sweden)!

The aftermath of the picnic in Ekonomikum Parken

The aftermath of the picnic…


Our bonfire, made from pallets we took from ICA

About Aaron

Hej – I'm Aaron! When I'm not working my regular job, I love to travel, study languages (svenska anyone?), and learn about history and culture. I'm also a "pandemic cook" attempting to learn the secrets of Indian cuisine from my apartment in Texas!
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