Valborg and Mayday

Monday and Tuesday this week were holidays. Well, officially only Tuesday, yesterday, the first of May. The last day of April is Valborg, when the Swedes celebrate the coming of Spring. After a winter here in Sweden I can understand the excitement. Although it is not officially a day off, this year it was on the Monday between the weekend and the Mayday holiday, so many took the day off and the schools were all closed. In the evening people gathered all over the country to listen to men’s choirs sing the traditional Spring songs and to watch the huge bonfires which flamed up as the day drew toward night. The kids and I (Maria was working) went down to Brickeberg Church where there was a gathering of many people who we knew from Brickebacken and Brickeberg. There was also a gathering in Brickebacken itself in Saxonparken. Later in the night there were sporadic fireworks, though nothing on the scale of New Years Eve.

I am not sure of the ancient significance of Valborg, although I suspect that it is, like so many of our European traditions, a pagan festival which has been Christianised and now largely secularised. I couldn’t find Valborg in Wikipedia so I will have to look further in my research.

Mayday is a national holiday in Sweden, but there is no “dancing around the maypole” like there is in England. That is reserved for the midsummer celebrations next month in June. Mayday here is a day of political significance, when all around the country the Social Democrats have a march through the streets (which is called the “förstamajtåg”, or first of May train) and later a rally with political speakers. Sounds all very revolutionary to me. It is, I suppose, a celebration of Sweden’s socialism, which is at least in part responsible for the incredibly high standard of living which this country has enjoyed for the last fifty years.

It is hard to think of the Mayday rallies as a particularly revolutionary demonstration. Swedes, in my experience, are fairly conservative and resistant to change. I think it comes as something of a relief this year that the current ruling party is not Social Democrat, but a moderate centre coalition. At least the Mayday speakers had something to protest about.The comment in the paper (Nerikes Allehanda) this morning was that one of the main speakers “passade på att kritisera den borgerliga regeringen” – in other words, he took the opportunity to criticise the non-Socialist government. The word borgerlig is interesting, since it can be translated non-Socialist, but it can also be translated bourgeois, or middle-class. I wonder what the speaker actually criticised. After all, the government (and the people) of Sweden has been well and truly middle class for many years, despite its label of Social Democracy. Perhaps not bourgeois, but then, which of the conservative governments of the world (I’m thinking of Australia and the USA) would call themselves bourgeois. I’m not sure what the speaker actually criticised.

The most interesting speaker of the day here in Örebro was Helena Bergström, a well known actor here in Sweden who is married to a British film director (Colin Nutley) and has appeared in many films, the best known of which is Änglagård – House of Angels. Maria has felt something of an affinity with Helena since she discovered that she has a son with diabetes, of a similar age to our Isak. Apparently Helena spoke about children and the issues to do with them that society faces just now – pedophilia, child trafficking, and integration – the need to focus on similarities, not differences.

These issues, of course, are general social issues, and not specific to any political party in Sweden. Perhaps that is what Mayday has become in Sweden – an opportunity to stand up in public and draw attention to social injustice of any sort in any place. For that reason alone it is a good thing, since the greater the attention that is focussed on social evils, whether here in Europe or in Africa, Asia or anywhere, the more likely we complacent Westerners are to take notice, and maybe take action.

For an interesting opinion on Mayday rallies in Sweden, click here.

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