Walpurgis Eve in Scandinavia* is something that people – children and grown ups alike – look forward to well in advance. Close your eyes and imagine balloons and serpentines, ice-cream and mead, a lot of people everywhere. The glittering sea and a cozy picnic in the park. It occurs on the last day of May and as such it is always a good day to celebrate, with May 1 being a public holiday in both Finland and Sweden. Known as Vappu in Finland and Valborg in Sweden, Walpurgis Eve is a day dedicated to students, champagne and (where possible) sunny days in the park. However, there are some differences in the way these countries celebrate and now that we have seen this day being celebrated in both countries, we can now share our thoughts on one of the greatest party days in Scandinavia.
Walpurgis Eve in Sweden: Bonfires and Champagne
We have celebrated Walpurgis Eve in Sweden twice. One would like to associate this day with the arrival of spring; with colourful flowers peeking through the grass and trees turning green. Traditionally bonfires are lit in the evenings and in some cities students gather in the parks for champagne, strawberries and a lot of parties. We ain’t no students no more we have done our best to get into the mood. Our first Valborg in Vagnhärad, Sweden was a grey affair: I think we made it to the bonfire but it was too windy to actually stay there. As far as I recall the rain was pouring down as well and we ended up at home, watching TV.
Last year our expectations were low so we stayed at home. At some point we decided to take a walk and what did we find? A bonfire, of course. In the Stockholm area most neighborhoods arrange their own bonfires on Walpurgis Eve and there are a lot of things happening around the fire. Music is being played, and games are being arranged. Usually the visitors can enjoy some snacks and drinks while socializing with their neighbors.
Indeed, rain or shine, there is always champagne.
Walpurgis Eve in Finland: Sima, Munkit and Funnel Cakes
Last Saturday we were standing near the Market Square central Helsinki, with 40 000 or so intoxicated (and a few sober) Finns. We were staring at a nude statue and trying to hold on to our sanity in the midst of the masses. There was someone singing opera and a couple of guys playing the accordion. Suddenly the crowds started cheering and throwing their funny caps in the air. Jesper looked confused and I thought the experience was quite cool: welcome to Finland to celebrate Vappu! This particular event that we witnessed was the capping of Havis Amanda and this year it was the students at the University of the Arts that had been given the honor to put the student cap on Amanda’s head.
On Saturday we bumped into students everywhere. In the morning it was mostly current students, in the evenings the majority of former high school students have found their hats and throughout the evening and the next day many people – young and old – wear their caps publicly. What a pity that we had forgotten ours! The festivities that begin on Walpurgis Eve (or have started way before that) continue on the next day with picnics in the parks. In the case of Helsinki the places to be are Kaivopuisto Park and Ullanlinnanmäki. Unlike Sweden, bonfires don’t seem to be so common – one can admire them during Midsummer Eve instead.
And what’s that thing about sima and funnel cake? Sima is often homemade and it is a sweet sparkling brew that is enjoyed during Vappu. It has a low alcohol content. Hence people tend to have a glass or two of sparking wine as well. Tippaleipä (funnel cake) and/or sweet donuts are served with the siima. Are they any good? Despite the fact that I’m Finnish, I have never learnt to like this delicacies.
We’ll see where we spend Walpurgis Eve next year: it might be in Sweden, Finland or one of the other northern and central European countries that celebrate this very friendly and colorful spring festival. The Czech Republic would be nice. There they speak of the burning of the witches, or pálení čarodějnic…
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* Scandinavia usually includes Sweden, Norway and Denmark, but in this case we use it for Sweden and Finland.