One of my biggest concerns going into this semester was Sweden’s long winters. It was only in April that we began to have consistent sunny weather with temperatures that hovered around the high 40s. Earlier this month I remember talking to my mom on the phone about the weather, being so excited that it was a sunny 50 degree day in Stockholm, when she told me it hit 70 degrees in my hometown. It’s safe to say that even though I’ve gotten used to the cold, I’m definitely ready for Sweden’s long winters to be over. So, when I heard about Valborg, a holiday where the entire country celebrates the transition from winter to spring, I was very excited.
Valborg, short for Valborgsmässoafton, is celebrated at the end of April, culminating in a full-day celebration on April 30th. It is a traditional spring holiday, characterized by choral singing, bonfires, and barbecues. To celebrate Valborg, my friends and I went to Uppsala, a college town 40 minutes north of Stockholm. As soon as we arrived, we could feel how excited all of the college students were to celebrate; not only does the holiday mark the beginning of spring, but it also happens when final exams are almost over and college students look forward to the end of the semester.
The first event that we attended during Valborg was the Uppsala river rafting race, where students from the university’s College of Engineering create their own hand-made rafts and try to row down a gushing river without tipping over. The river rafting race was definitely a unique event, and it was so fun to watch; each raft had a different theme, ranging from vikings to Mario and Luigi to Avatar. Even though it was a cloudy Saturday morning, spirits were high as we lined up along the riverbank, cheering on with the crowd.
Afterwards, we bought lunch from local food trucks in Uppsala and headed to Ekonomikum Park where hundreds of college students were gathered, setting up speakers and picnic blankets on the grass. While setting up on our own little patch of grass, we saw Uppsala’s college band playing drums and trumpets throughout the park. It was so fun to be able to meet up there with other DIS students and see a glimpse into Swedish college life.
After lunch, we headed to the donning of the caps ceremony held atop the tallest hill on campus. In Sweden, when you graduate high school and college you are given a cap, similar to the tradition of caps and gowns in the U.S., but you are meant to keep the cap for future generations and ceremonies. For this ceremony, Uppsala alumni of all ages and high school graduates came with their caps, and at the end of the ceremony, waved them in the air as a celebration of their accomplishments. I didn’t realize how important of a tradition this was, until we turned around and I saw the entire street going four blocks back, filled with people waving their caps in the air.
For the evening bonfire, we headed back to Skansen, a park and open air museum near Stockholm’s city center. It is one of the most popular bonfires in the city, as the branches are lit atop a hill and can be seen all the way from other islands in the city. The evening began with some choral singing, performed by local high school students, followed by a speech about the welcoming of spring. The night culminated with the lighting of the bonfire. It was beautiful to see so many people from different walks of life come to experience the rosy warmth of the fire, despite how chilly the evening was. The choir continued to sing traditional Swedish songs as we watched the flames grow taller and taller. Watching the red embers floating through the navy sky was such a lovely way to end the day.
Being able to take part in such an important Swedish holiday was such a fun and enlightening experience. Even though I’ve learned that Swedes truly make the most of the long winters and snowy days, it was nice to finally acknowledge and have a little taste of summer. While summer is definitely my favorite season, Valborg did help me to appreciate the experiences winter has brought me, and welcome the coming of spring.
Click here to read more about how other students are celebrating spring abroad!