Each year, in the evening of April the 30th, we celebrate Walpurgis night by gathering around big
bonfires, looking at fireworks and singing songs to welcome spring. Many people tidy up their
gardens this time of year. The leaves and branches are good material for the bonfires, and so
are the Christmas trees after Christmas. In many places, people gather material for their
bonfires for months ahead.
This tradition originates from Germany, where they lit bonfires to scare off witches. In Sweden
we used to let cows and goats out into the forest on May the 1st to begin their summer grazing.
The Vikings picked up the habit of lighting bonfires to keep away evil spirits and wild animals
so that the livestock would not get harmed. They also used the bonfires to celebrate and hurry
up spring, and to purify nature.
Walpurgis night ('Valborgsmässoafton') is named after the saint Valborg who lived in the
8th century. According to the legend she was the daughter of king Richard of England (historians
say that this is highly unlikely), but moved together with her brothers to Germany. In Wurtemburg
they founded a catholic convent, Heidenheim, where Valborg later became a nun. The catholic
calendar still carries her date of death; the 25th of February 779.
Valborg was made a saint on the 1st of May 779, in old days called 'Valborgsmässan' or
'Walpurgistag' (German). She was worshipped in a similar way as the Vikings worshipped spring,
and since the time of year was the same, the two celebrations soon became mixed together and
produced the Valborg celebration.