I have wanted to experience crazy Uppsala on Walpurgis Eve (Valborgsmässoafton) for decades and now I am finally here on the last day of April! One of the most attractive things about this wonderfully pagan holiday is the bonfires people have. It is still pretty chilly here (I reluctantly surrendered my winter coat a few weeks ago but I am still wearing a wool peacoat, often with a down vest underneath it.) According to Wikipedia, “At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze, and ever since the early 18th century bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) have been lit to scare away predators.”
In addition to my pyromaniac urges, I also enjoy traditional singing and there are lots of songs on Walpurgis. In Uppsala, a strong university town, the students do some hardcore partying all day and night. There is lots of alcohol involved, so much so that I read in the paper that several preschools are closed on the last day of April this year just to protect their property and young charges. There is apparently a high risk or property damage and drunken people staggering around. It is also the day, according to the newspaper ”8 Sidor” in which twice as many bicycles are stolen as any other day in Sweden. (”Yes, but, one Swede explained to me, ”You find the bicycle in the bushes a few feet away so it’s not so bad.”)
In Uppsala, the students also build decorative rafts and then sail them over a modest waterfall where the rafts inevitably fall apart and they go into the cold (I mean, cold!) water. There is also a Champagne Race in which students run down the hill from the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations (kind of like fraternity houses), to drink champagne.
After the rafting (forsränning) at 10AM, I am heading for the public herring lunch (sillunch). After that I will see if I can get a ”Last day of April” (Sista April pin)—a commemorative pin they just started giving out last year and which will have a new design every year. Then I am looking forward to the ”donning of the caps” (mösspåtagning) which is when the students put on their traditional white caps. Historically, the students took off their black caps and putt on their white ones to welcome Spring. There is a big clock counting down the days, hours, and minutes till the caps are donned.
According to ”Walpurgis in Uppsala,”
At exactly 3pm in the afternoon the Vice-Chancellor waves his white cap from the library balcony, a signal for everyone below to don their white student caps and run down the hill toward town. This creates an effect that has often been described as ‘a whole hillside of white anemones’. Balloons ascend to the sky and the thousands upon thousands of reveling students, alumni, families, and friends begin to cheer.
Boo yah! I can’t wait.