Valborg

A stray glove, black, tattered, lay on the bicycle path as I cycled home today. A memory of winter. It has got warm. Gloves, scarves, padded jackets, have disappeared from the streets in what seems like the blink of an eye. People’s faces have emerged from under the hoods and fleecy hats that only a few weeks ago hid them. Skin has become a visible part of humanity again – faces, hands, arms, even legs, as short trousers and skirts have started to appear.

Not that it is especially warm. But the sun is shining. Or at least it was. It clouded over this afternoon and during the evening the clouds have spattered raindrops over everything. But that has not prevented the traditional celebration of the coming of Spring. Today is the last day of April, and all over Sweden people are gathering to “sing in” the Spring. It is Valborgsmässoafton, or Walpurgis night. We walked down the hill to our local church, outside of which a huge traditional bonfire was lit after the singing by a choir of old men of the traditional Spring songs.

The fire roared. Our faces glowed. Raindrops fell sporadically on our heads and backs. There is a certain festivity associated with Valborg. There is a certain joy, a certain hopefulness. The heaviness of winter is lifted.

I asked my friend Anders what pagan festival we were celebrating. Christian, not pagan, he corrected me. From the 13th century, or thereabouts. He wasn’t sure of the details. Its just about Spring. Worth celebrating. Wikipedia gives more details. It is a Christian festival, but it replaced a pagan one, in which “bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then.” When Europe became Christian the pagan festivals were christianised, and this particular celebration took on the name of St Walpurga (Valborg), who was an English saint, the niece of St Boniface. She became a missionary to Germany in the 700s and is credited with being the first female author in both England and Germany.

But not many people around here seem to know anything about Valborg. She is largely forgotten. But Spring comes around every year and that is something everyone can relate to, and enjoy. Winter is forgotten. Summer is just around the corner.

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