Yesterday evening we joined thousands of others lining the river around the castle in town to celebrate Valborgsmässoafton. The first time I experienced this event was many years ago, before the children were born, on what I recall to be a chilly and damp April 30th. I remember thinking what a curious and eccentric tradition it is to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring with songs speeches and bonfires and fireworks. After surviving three Swedish winters I no longer have any difficulty understanding the jubilation of this event. This is indeed a time for celebration.
Last night the sun sank behind the city skyline to be replaced by a clear, star filled sky with a sliver of moon far above the castle. A combined choir of hundreds filed onto the eastern forecourt of the castle across the darkening waters from where we sat, our feet dangling over the water’s edge. The Salvation Army band struck up a few numbers, beginning, to my amazement, with an old Graham Kendrick song, which I imagine not many of the assembled audience recognised, but which we hoped was “prophetic,” as we remembered the words of the chorus – Shine Jesus Shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory. It was not the last Christian song we heard last night – even some of the traditional Swedish spring songs are hymns, familiar enough for many to join in. The master of ceremonies was the pastor of one of Örebro’s churches, Vasakyrkan, and he was unashamedly Christian in his address, as he thanked God for the re-emergence of life after the long dark winter, and as he concluded the evening with a prayer for God’s blessing on the city and all those assembled. I glanced around at the throngs of people, many of whom must surely come from Muslim backgrounds, but have adopted this confusingly Christian country as their homeland. Sweden is indeed a land of contradictions I thought, remembering that the bonfire that burned before us was a memory of pagan times, before the first Christian missionaries came to this cold northern land…
The fire was spectacular, a floating pyre in the middle of the river between us and the choir. It was ignited by a group of medieval archers who spread themselves evenly along the castle ramparts and at the appropriate moment shot flaming arrows from their longbows into the three metre stack of dead wood that had been prepared for this event over the last few days. Atop the highest point of the cone shaped pile of wood a single firework flamed into life shooting a shower of white and coloured sparks heavenward, a taste of the display that would come at the end of the evening. The band played on, the speeches were given, the songs were sung, and the temperature sank as the darkness deepened. The fireworks display after the concert made the shivering worthwhile, although the booming echos of explosions between the sombre stone of the castle walls and the old buildings of Karolinska School behind us left our ears ringing for a long while afterwards.
So the darkness and chill of the winter has gone. Spring may have started in March, but it is only now that nature is really exploding into life. Everywhere leaves are budding. The dull grays and browns of winter fields are replaced by the shooting new growth of hastily sown crops. The apple trees are coming suddenly into blossom and the sound of lawn mowers is once again heard in the neighbourhood. Doors and windows are more often open. A fresh breeze of life blows through our house. Spring is indeed a time to smile…
Den blomstertid nu kommer med lust och fägring stor:
Du nalkas, ljuva sommar, då gräs och gröda gror.
Med blid och livlig värma till allt som varit dött,
Sig solens strålar närma, och allt blir återfött
The time of flowers comes now, with great joy and beauty:
You approach, delightful summer, when grass and crops sprout.
With gentle and life giving warmth to everything that was dead
The sun’s rays come near, and all is reborn.