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Walpurgis Night bonfire in Sweden

Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht) is a traditional religious holiday of pre-Christian origin, celebrated today by Christian as well as non-Christian[citation needed] communities, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe.[1]

The current festival is, in most countries that celebrate it, named after Saint Walpurga, born in Devon about 710. Due to the coincidence of her holy day falling on the same day as the pagan holiday on which it was based, her name became associated with the celebrations. Walpurga was honoured in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. Early Christianity had a policy of 'Christianising' pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1.

Contents

Origins

Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various pagan spring customs. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were then widely believed to walk among the living.[2] This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day, although bonfires and witches are more closely associated with Easter (especially in Ostrobothnia, Finland) and bonfires alone with midsummer in the rest of Finland.

Saint Walpurga was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, daughter of St. Richard, a Saxon prince. She travelled with her brothers to Franconia, Germany, and became a nun in the convent of Heidenheim, Bavaria, which was founded by her brother Willibald. Shortly after moving the mortal remains of her brother,[3] Saint Winibald, Walpurga died of an illness on 25 February 779. She is therefore listed in the Roman Martyrology under 25 February. So that she might be buried beside Willibald, her relics were transferred on 1 May, and this date remains associated with her in the Finnish and Swedish calendars.[3][4]

Estonia

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of April 30 and into the early hours of May 1, where May 1 is a public holiday called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). Volbriöö is an important and widespread celebration of the arrival of Spring in the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Modernly people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

The Volbriöö celebrations are especially vigorous in Tartu, the university town in Southern Estonia. For Estonian students in student corporations (fraternities and sororities), the night starts with a traditional march through the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting of each others' corporation houses throughout the night. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').

Finland

In Finland, Walpurgis day (Vappu) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festival held in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration, which begins on the evening of April 30 and continues to May 1, typically centres on copious consumption of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, particularly those of the engineering students, are one of the main characteristics of "Vappu". Since the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper-class feast has been appropriated by university students. Many graduates from lukio, and thus traditionally assumed as university students or alumni, wear a cap. The cap of the engineering students is distinguished by a pom-pom hanging from it. One tradition is to drink sima, a home-made mead, along with freshly cooked doughnuts.

In the capital Helsinki and its surrounding region, fixtures include the capping (on April 30, 6 pm) of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually-alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku, by engineering students of the Helsinki University of Technology. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine cans and milk cartons. For most university students Vappu starts a week before the day of celebration. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner, particularly in Ullanlinnanmäki - and Kaisaniemi for the Swedish-speaking population - in Helsinki city.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include political activists: other institutions like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches. In Sweden it is only the left-wing parties which use May 1 for political activities, while others observe the traditional festivities. Left-wing activists who were active in the 1970s still party on May Day. They arrange carnivals and radio stations play leftist songs from the 1970s.

People at a Vappu picnic in Kaivopuisto in 2008.

Traditionally May 1 is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto or Kaisaniemi in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and extravagant food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, where some of the previous night's party goers continue their celebrations undaunted by lack of sleep.

Some student organisations reserve areas where they traditionally camp every year. Student caps, mead, streamers and balloons have their role in the picnic, as well as in the celebration as a whole.

Vappu/Valborg and Midsummer are Finland's two main holidays in the summer-half of the year, on a par with Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve in the winter-half.

Germany

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when witches are reputed to hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring.

Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of April 30 (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods..."

Brocken is the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches' revels which reputedly took place there on Walpurgis night.

The Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken.

Oxford Phrase & Fable.

A scene in Goethe's Faust Part One is called "Walpurgisnacht", and one in Faust Part Two is called "Classical Walpurgisnacht". The last chapter of book five in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain is also called "Walpurgisnacht".

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires".

In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to play pranks such as tampering with neighbours' gardens, hiding possessions, or spraying graffiti on private property. These pranks occasionally result in serious damage to property or bodily injury.

In Berlin, traditional leftist May Day riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. There is a similar tradition in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg, though in both cases the situation has significantly calmed down in the past few years.

Adolf Hitler, with several members of his staff (including Joseph Goebbels), committed suicide on Walpurgisnacht, April 30 – May 1, 1945. At the time of his suicide, the Russians had already closed in about several hundred meters on his bunker and Hitler did not want to be captured alive. However, the coincidence of the day has been used to argue for an occult initiation of Hitler.

Sweden

A large crowd, mostly students in typical Swedish white student caps, participating in the traditional Walpurgis Night celebration with song outside the Castle in Uppsala. The silhouette of the cathedral towers may be seen in the background. To the right are banners and standards of the student nations. Image from c. 1920.

In Sweden, Walpurgis Night (Swedish: Valborgsmässoafton or simply Valborg) has become a public holiday. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough writes that "The first of May is a great popular festival in the more midland and southern parts of Sweden. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires, which should be lighted by striking two flints together, blaze on all the hills and knolls".[5] One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which may have begun in Uppland during the 18th century: "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". [6] In Southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practised, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight: these were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.

Singing traditional songs of Spring is widespread throughout the country. The songs are mostly from the 19th century and were spread by students' Spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional Spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsala and Lund where both undergraduates, graduates and alumni gather at events that last most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or "sista april" ("The last day of April") as it is called in Uppsala. Modern Valborg celebrations, particularly in Uppsala, consist of having a light breakfast including champagne and strawberries. During the day people gather in parks, drink alcoholic beverages, grill and generally enjoy the weather, if it happens to be favourable.

In Uppsala students also go rafting in Fyrisån on home-made and often humorously decorated rafts. Several nations also hold "Champagne Races" where students go to drink and spray champagne or sparkling wine on each other. The walls and floors of the old nation buildings are covered in plastic for this occasion as the champagne is poured around recklessly and sometimes spilled enough to wade in. Spraying champagne is, however, a fairly recent addition to the "Champagne Race". The name derives from the students running down the downhill slope of the Carolina Rediviva library, toward the Student Nations, to drink champagne.

In Linköping the students and public gather at the court yard of Linköping Castle. Spring songs are sung by Linköping University Male Voice Choir and speeches made by representatives of the students and the University teachers.

There are also newer student traditions in Gothenburg, like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers.

Czech Republic

April 30 is "pálení čarodějnic" ("burning of the witches") or "čarodějnice" in the Czech Republic, the day that winter is ceremonially brought to an end, by the burning of rag and straw witches or just broomsticks on bonfires around the country. The festival offers Czechs the chance to eat, drink and be merry around a roaring fire.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The name of the holiday is Walpurgisnacht in German and Dutch, Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö in Estonian, Valpurgijos naktis in Lithuanian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, čarodějnice or Valpuržina noc in Czech, chódotypalenje Lower Sorbian, chodojtypalenje in Upper Sorbian.
  2. ^ Norse Holidays and Festivals
  3. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint Walburga
  4. ^ Patron Saints Index: Saint Walburga.
  5. ^ Frazer, James G. (1961). The New Golden Bough. Anchor Books. pp. 356. 
  6. ^ http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Lifestyle/Traditions/Celebrating-the-Swedish-way/Walpurgis-Eve---and-1-May/

External links


Simple English

Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton in Swedish, Vappu in Finnish, Volbriöö in Estonian, Valpurģu nakts or Valpurģi in Latvian, Walpurgisnacht in German) is a holiday celebrated on April 30 or May 1, in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Germany.

Origins

The festival is named after Saint Walburga (known in Scandinavia as "Valborg"; alternative forms are "Walpurgis", "Wealdburg", or "Valderburger"), born in Wessex in 710 a niece of Saint Boniface. According to legend, she was a daughter to the Saxon prince St. Richard. Together with her brothers she travelled to Württemberg, Germany where she became a nun and lived in the convent of Heidenheim, which was founded by her brother Wunibald. Walburga died on 25 February 779 and that day still carries her name in the Catholic calendar. However she was not made a saint until 1 May in the same year, and that day carries her name in the Swedish calendar.

Historically the Walpurgisnacht is derived from Pagan spring customs, where the arrival of spring was celebrated with bonfires at night. Viking fertility celebrations took place around April 30 and due to Walburga being declared a saint at that time of year, her name became associated with the celebrations. Walburga was worshipped in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration.

Germany

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht, the night from April 30 to May 1, is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring. When the travel to that mountain is too far, they may also chose another hill in the region they live.

"Walpurgis Night (in German folklore) the night of April 30 (May Day's eve), when witches meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their Gods..."
"Brocken the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany. It is noted for the phenomenon of the Brocken spectre and for witches' revels which reputably took place there on Walpurgis night. The Brocken Spectre is a magnified shadow of an observer, typically surrounded by rainbow-like bands, thrown onto a bank of cloud in high mountain areas when the sun is low. The phenomenon was first reported on the Brocken."
—Taken from Oxford Phrase & Fable.









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