Valborg – once time for wild celebrations
On Valborg day students sing, there are fireworks and bonfires called ”May fires”. Celebrating Valborg is a very old custom. It came to Sweden from Germany in the Middle Ages. Even at that time there were wild celebrations.
The origin of Valborg celebrations is Catholic, from the German Saint Walpurgis, who was an abbess in the 8th century. But the celebrations may well have a heathen origin.
That we still remember the name of the saint is a result of the tradition of celebrations on 1st May, which was an important profane festival.
On the evening before, that is, on Valborg day, everyone gathered out of doors to celebrate, particularly young people. They set off gunpowder, fired their guns and sang.
The young people rang the church bells to call people together. But they had to stop doing that. So they started to light bonfires instead.
Fires were also a way of protecting livestock from predators and evil powers.
In the 19th century, when towns were expanding, Valborg became associated with drunkenness, especially among the working classes. Workers lived under hard conditions. In the days after Valborg you could read in the papers from the 1880's how workers lay full under trees and bushes on Djurgården in Stockholm. The police had their hands full coping with all the drunks.
Source: nordiskamuseet.se, Folklivsarkivet i Lund.
Valborg Eve, the last day of April, usually called Valborg (Vappen in the Swedish spoken in Finland), is an annual celebration observed in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany on 30th April or 1st May.