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Festivals (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
nordic flags
The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Festivals

 



Subject: 2.9 

Valborg, Midsummer and other festivals

 
(in production)
 

2.9.1 Valborg

Val Davies <val@altinkum.demon.co.uk> wrote:
I recently came across a reference to an occasion called "Valborg" and on looking it up in the dictionary find that it apparently translates into English as "Walpurgis Night". I confess to being none the wiser. :-(

[ Henrik Ernoe: ]
Valborg is the Scandinavian name for the Catholic Saint Walpurgis. Walpurgis is believed to be the patron of witches (this is of course not certified by the Church). Her day is the 1st of May. Walpurgis night is the night before May 1st. On which nature was suppossed to be potent. So if a girl wanted to get pregnant the following year she would go and bathe in a holy well or creek on that night. There was also a number of magical rituals supposed to make livestick fertile that were carried out on Valborgs eve.

[ Antti Lahelma: ]
It's the 1st of May. A important holiday in these parts; you wear a white student cap (supposing you ever graduated), a silly nose (optional), drink a whole lot of alcohol and walk aimlessly in the crowd downtown. In Helsinki, one of the main events is the crowning of a statue of a mermaid (Havis Amanda, a symbol of the city) with said white cap. I presume it's old pagan festival to welcome the spring; the Christian excuse for celebrating it has to do with a certain St. Valborg, a German 9th (?) century abbess who probably did something pious that has nothing to do with Valborg (Vappu in Finnish) as we know it.

[ Alo Merilo: ]
In Estonia the Walpurgis Night (in Estonian "Volbriöö") is basically when all self-respecting present or past university students who belong to either a fraternity /sorority ("korporatsioon") or a student society, have probably the biggest party of the year. The tradition probably has its roots in Germany.

[ Johan Olofsson: ]
The festival has its roots in on of the pagan rites to honour the return of Spring. In Sweden the important part is the Eve, the last day in April, when people make big bonfires and greet the Spring with a lot of singing.

 

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2.9.2 Midsummer

Midsummer's eve is The Greatest Festival during the year. This day huge phallic poles are dressed in green leaves and lot's of flowers, erected, and then people dance ring dances around it, and play games and make babies.

It's easy to see the connection with the pagan rite with the purpose to help give good harvests in the autumn. Due to the heavy partying no-one is able to work the day after, why at least the Swedish government has moved the holliday from the real midsummer's eve to the nearest Friday.

   

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Subject: 2.10 

Nordic alcohol customs

There are a few facts which often tend to be forgotten when discussing the alcohol habits of North-Europeans.

The maybe most important explanation for the Nordic behavior is the very long tradition of mead and beer drinking. At least since the stone age Germanians have left traces of brewing intoxicating beverages from grain. Wine was grown by Germans first at the time of Charlemagne, when the Nordics since long had established our own cultural identity, and still today it's almost impossible to grow wine in Scandinavia.

Mead can however not be stored. Mead has to be prepared for each time there is a need for it, as at festivals, and then all of the mead has to be consumed or it will be wasted. The Nordic all-or-nothing attitude to alcohol has a plausible explanation in our historic and geographic conditions.

Secondly beer and mead are made from grain, which otherwise would be used as food. Richness and power made it possible to afford brewing; poverty, failure of the crops and starving meant "no booze or you'll die!" To be able to serve ones guests a plenty of alcohol is a deeply rooted signal of richness, authority and good times worthy lords and magnates.

The holiday behavior of Finns staggering off and on their ferries in Tallin, Sundsvall and Stockholm, and the Swedes reeling off and on the ferries in Helsingør, Fredrikshavn and Copenhagen, is nothing but the traditional way of celebration for a people not used to wine. Parallels are seen in the traditions on Ireland and in Scotland.

Wine has become available and affordable outside of its traditional areas since only a few decades (no time at all compared to the millenniums the beer tradition has had to root in the culture) - let's see if we Northerners will learn to use alcohol in a wine-like manner before the good times have changed and we are back at the home brewed mead again. Other cultures have had long time to learn a suitable pattern for wine consumption: regularly but in dosages so small that one will be able to function as a human, as a parent and as a worker also the day after the consuming - and immediately as a witty companion and a good lover.



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- Is the text above really reliable?
- See the discussion in section 1.2.2!
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© Copyright 1996-2001 by Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL.
The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated February the 15th in the year of 1998.

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