Valborg is celebrated throughout Sweden on April 30, but Uppsala is It with regards to grabbing the festival vibe of the holiday.
I was blessed enough to be present in the University town for this enriching, lively celebration of springtime. I hope grassblades like the taste of bubbly.
Champagne pouring from sunrise. Picnic blankets laid about every open square meter of grass, preferably where the sunlight is strongest and the wind best broken. Companions passing around strawberries, grapes, and bags of chips and chatting either amicably or drunkenly or both. Batches of balloons – ranging from Spongebob to minions to other and more lewd shapes – struggling against the breeze by the riverside. Hot dogs sizzling on roadside grills, wrapped in buns and ready for the passersby to snatch on their paths to the next sector of the party.
At it’s simplest, Valborg is a farewell to snowflakes and a welcome to spring. Apparently, the tradition has pagan roots much like its summertime cousin Midsummer, but I am not entirely educated on the matter and will point you to this article by The Local for a clearer glimpse of the history. Valborg is experienced differently depending on your location in Sweden, but because I am based in Uppsala at present, I jumped into the student version of Valborg, which is likely quite different to what one in Stockholm would see, hear, and touch.
People told me that Stockholm was boring on Valborg, but I’ll leave that judgment to others who’ve been there and done that.
Because Uppsala University’s strobe-lit liveliness pours from the doors and windows of the Nations, a great emphasis is placed on downing as much alcohol as is physically capable and dancing until the soles of your shoes wear thin and peel off somewhere in the backyard gardens of the Nation building. The coat checks opened and the DJs commenced spinning their mixes on the 27th. Because I had class and studying to do (this is a study abroad, after all) I did not much partake until the 29th.
Nations are impossible to get into if you are not a student at Uppsala University, or a student with a guest card – hence, if you are in Uppsala for Valborg, this facet of the holiday is sadly irrelevant. On Valborg, the impossibility factor is multiplied due to the police presence within and without the Nation building: the cops are handed the responsibility of checking IDs instead of the usual student workers, and inside the building the uniformed men and women do not hesitate to push out those reeling from the weight of too many shots of Minttu – which, might I add, tastes like toothpaste but is oddly refreshing. One of my friends was amongst this unfortunate crowd, and actually spent the evening in the Swedish equivalent of a “drunk tank.” The police are very serious about public safety on these nights of merrymaking, for good reason.
I visited Värmlands’ storpub for a spiked and fizzy raspberry beverage and a red beet burger (with the most divine seasoned potatoes I’ve tasted in awhile) before unleashing my most intense, seizure-esque dance moves beneath booming stereos and flicking blue-red-yellow lights. My pal later commented on the strength of my “booty pop.” On Valborg itself, my friends and I stumbled upon the Glassbaren at GH Nation for some top-notch ice cream and milkshakes, some spiked with Bailey’s or another alcoholic accompaniment. I happily licked a cone with two scoops of vegan vanilla ice cream decorated with toffee sauce, for only 25 SEK (under $3), while watching Brett, Olof, and Jack duel it out in a game of Gin Rummy.
If the Nations don’t interest you, or you are one of many who cannot attend, activities still are aplenty throughout town. I’ll wrap into a neat little post what you might expect from a Valborg in Uppsala, as told from my eyes.
1. The Rafting. I strolled into town around 8 am on the 30th en route to a mimosa brunch at my friend’s place, and already the first tendrils of people gathered for the forsränningen in the Fyris River. The rafting is an amusing pasttime within Valborg culture: small groups on homemade boats paddle down the waterway and brave the gargling dam for the heck of it, and perhaps their own stores of pride as well. Some boats are manned with students and others with business representatives: I cringed at the guys and gals who went bare-limbed in the overcast, drizzly morning. My skin was pricked with goosebumps beneath a heavy wool coat and two pairs of leggings. Spectators numbered in the hundreds, probably thousands, toasting mimosas with one another and listening to the enthusiastic commentator proclaiming “JA!” and “Oioioi” at appropriate times in the event.
2. The picnics. Practically all day, and especially when the sun wiped makeup remover onto the smudged-eyeliner clouds perusing the sky, the lawns were covered with families and groups of students sharing lunch and conversation. Ekonomikum Park is the most noteworthy site of these gatherings, as it is the only spot of land which allows public drinking on this day: if you are caught bumbling on Drottninggatan double-fisting Spendrups, the bottles will be immediately confiscated. At Ekonomikum, people brought speakers booming electronic beats and grills were set up for the hungry with a few pieces of change leftover from many trips to the Systembolaget – the government-monopolized alcohol store. Quieter areas were also tinged with gatherings, such as Engelska Parken nearby, and the slope of Slottsbacken (Castle Hill). Valborg day has a surprising amount of downtime, and you will likely spend a good portion of the day socializing and simply enjoying the atmosphere.
3. The Donning of the Caps. A big hubbub surrounded this traditional 3 p.m. ceremony, which recognizes graduating students, outside of Carolina Rediviva. Admittedly, I found it quite anticlimactic, though it was nice to lounge in the sun and watch the masses of graduates march to the library entrance waving their home country’s flag – I saw Norway and Japan – and cheer as the countdown clock above the balcony reached 0. I was under the impression that the students were to race down the road towards their respective nations afterwards and unleash a bevvy of champagne, but that did not happen. Apparently, the Champagne Gallop occurs within the Nations themselves, where the flowers get drunk and the soil is saturated and fizzling. Again, students are only permitted to enter, and costs vary but generally hovered around 100 SEK.
4. The Sillunch. Many Nations hold herring lunches in the early afternoon, but a famous meal not associated with the Nations is held at Uppsala Consert & Congress near Centralstationen. Live bands offer entertainment during the course, and kid-friendly activities including face-painting and a fish pond are available to keep the tots from running too wild. I saw some children later in the day with butterflies stroked onto their cheeks. Many little painted fiends ate ice cream from some vendor or another.
5. Bonfires. Perhaps the most universal of Swedish events, the bonfires sweep in every neighborhood imaginable after dusk. In Sunnersta alone, I knew of three areas in which people stoked the embers of great red flames and commenced dancing and singing around the wreaths of fire. Swedes shed their shyness and will link arms with anyone and everyone. It is such a beautiful display of the commonality in human spirit. No matter where you’re from or what your personality type is on a normal day, you are welcome and part of the national collective. During a bonfire, everyone is Swedish. In addition, around 10 p.m. or so, fireworks cracked and spat in the dimming sky a smidge north of my neighborhood. Light and warmth are valued after the sun says goodnight. Fires are aplenty in Uppsala – find one near you, or head to Ekonomikum for what is rumored to be the biggest and brightest near the city.
6. Alcohol. So much alcohol. Rumor has it that the liquor store in the city was wiped almost completely clean minus the most expensive brews. Grab your alcohol early in the week to ensure that you get enough of the cheapest selection (unless you don’t mind paying more) or, if you land at Stockholm-Arlanda a few days prior, grab something special at duty-free. If you plan to drink until you’re silly, take advantage of the free bottles of Varannan Vatten floating around different areas of the city: keeping hydrated is incredibly crucial to survive a day of hefty drinking. Of course, bear in mind what I mentioned earlier. Cops do not mess around with drunkards. A Valborg Survival Guide sent to me laid out this simple and effective guideline to happy sipping – one drink, one water, one drink, one water, etc. Don’t be afraid that this’ll mitigate the alcohol’s impact overmuch. You’ll still feel nicely buzzed. Believe me.
- What holiday is most important in your country or nationality? Which do you like best?
- What is your choice alcoholic beverage?
Happy spring to all, and happy May. I officially have one month left of exchange, and that fact is saddening. More incentive, I suppose, to cherish every moment of each passing day, in some way or another.
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