The small Swedes light big fires on the last day of April (pictured from left are Vansbro residents Herman, Joel, Rasmus, and Oskar). With the fire, they are trying to convince winter to leave their land. The fires are enormous; when I was in Sweden in 1981 I witnessed one and it was impressive. They called it the “Majbrasa” (May bonfire). Here is a picture of this year’s Majbrasa in Vansbro, the town that’ll be my base camp when I go to Sweden to swim the lake.
Majbrasa occurs each year on the 30th of April; this date also has the Christian title of Walpurgis Night (in Swedish it is called Valborg). Like many religious holidays in the world, the origins of Walpurgis Night are largely “pagan”, and then over time religions lay their claims, superimposing their agendas on traditional celebrations.
Once upon a time, an English missionary named Walpurga sailed across the English Channel, and plied her trade among tribal Germans; she was canonized for her successful Christian mythology-spreading efforts. The canonization is said to have happened on May 1, around the year 870 AD, and her name became associated with this date in the Swedish, German, and Finnish calendars. However April 30 was, and still is, associated with other, more nefarious, activities. It is the “other Halloween”, exactly 6 months from All Hallow’s Eve, which I am more familiar with. Beware: on the night of April 30, witches ride broomsticks and billy goats, to the old high places….
(Alternatively, as Anders puts it: “And the reason we really make this fire i guess it’s only to velcome the summer and say godbye to the winter. At the same time we can burn garbage from our gardens when we cleaned up after the winter.”)
See the big fires and explain it as you wish: a melding of Christianity and paganism, an evening of brief convergence with fearsome black magic, or maybe just an opportunity to burn up the leaves that were raked up the previous fall.
Here are a couple more pictures of this year’s Majbrasa in Vansbro:
On May 2 Anders sent me the following picture of Lake Siljan, and he had this to say about it:
“I found this picture in the newspaper today and it stand Siljan get free from ice today 2 may. So now it will be warmer and warmer in the water.”
This picture is encouraging. Whether it was Saint Walpurga, the hundreds of fires lit across Sweden, or perhaps simply the tilt of the Earth’s axis in combination with the Earth revolving around the sun, changes are happening. The days are lengthening in Sweden; heat from the sun is inserting itself into Lake Siljan. The summer solstice is only six weeks out.