Burn baby burn!

Imagine this: the cold grip of winter is finally letting go at the end of April. The days are longer and warmer and cattle finally come outside to graze. The dead wood of winter is piled high in enormous bonfires, which blaze in order to keep the evil spirits away. For as everyone knows, the curtain between the living and the dead is a thin one. Winter is being kicked out – and spring is being warmly embraced.

This description sums up an ancient pagan tradition in Scandinavia and Northern Europe that still goes on today. (It’s called Valborg in Sweden; otherwise known as Walpurgis Eve.)

Lighting the fire

Go forward a thousand years or so to the 8th century… a British nun called Walpurga goes to Germany, where she runs a convent that was very important at that time. The Germans also celebrate April 30 – known there as ‘the witches’ Sabbath’ – as it is the time when witches were supposed to celebrate with their gods and await the arrival of Spring.

Singing in the spring

Walpurga becomes a saint and her holy day just happens to fall on the same day as the old pagan ritual. Put them together: bonfires, singing songs to usher in the spring and St. Walpurga’s feast day – and you have Walpurgis Eve in Sweden, still celebrated in much the same way as it was thousands of years ago.

Amazing how much change the world has seen, and yet, how traditions stay so deeply rooted and unchanging.

Oh, and I met a wizard with a silver-topped cane by the fire… Come back tomorrow to find out what magic he weaved….

The bonfire

For more traditions, please visit: That’s My World!

44 responses

  1. I think this sounds so fun. Scandanavian countries seem to have the neatest traditions.


    May 4, 2010 at 01:43

  2. how cool. love a good fire…and may lady winter rest for another year…come on spring…and now you have me intrigued by the wizard…


    May 4, 2010 at 01:53

  3. Di

    Fabulous bonfire photo!!!

    The Blue Ridge Gal


    May 4, 2010 at 02:06

  4. So cool!!! Anything with fire at night makes for a good holiday in my book!


    May 4, 2010 at 02:26

  5. I love holding onto traditions like this one. The world just goes by us so fast. Looks like a fun time and, of course, beautiful photos.


    May 4, 2010 at 03:10

  6. Gotta’ love a tradition that embraces all that history and all those cultures! Can I come next year?


    May 4, 2010 at 04:08

  7. What a terrific and fascinating post! I love it! Wish I could be there to celebrate, too! What a great tradition! Thanks for sharing the celebration! Love your photos! Hope you have a wonderful week!



    May 4, 2010 at 05:47

  8. Nice for the children to have traditions. I can feel the heat from the fire. Wish we celebrated more in my southern California area.


    May 4, 2010 at 06:07

  9. Interesting post.


    May 4, 2010 at 06:17

  10. And I am glad traditions remain so deeply rooted and unchanged.
    Great post.


    May 4, 2010 at 07:06

  11. Beautiful shots. Nice way of of sayng bye and welcoming the spring.


    May 4, 2010 at 07:19

  12. I agree with another comment..traditions in Scandinavia are just fun!!!


    May 4, 2010 at 07:35

  13. Those Christians must have thought they were on to such a good thing, using the existing feast days for new celebrations – well it seemed to work but I much prefer the idea behind the pagan rituals.


    May 4, 2010 at 07:39

  14. Ooo, the Danes wait until right near the summer solstice for their big bonfires – and they throw a stuffed witch doll on top of the pile.


    May 4, 2010 at 08:14

  15. Oh, it’s just an excuse for people to get together and sing. Love your Scandinavian pagan rites – I guess spring is so long in coming, there’s truly something to celebrate.


    May 4, 2010 at 10:05

  16. We do bonfires too to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring – we just do it two months earlier than you do!!!


    May 4, 2010 at 11:14

  17. Looking forward to hearing about the wizard!


    May 4, 2010 at 12:53

  18. Bonfires are always fun. For whatever reason. I´m glad things are finally warming up for you!


    May 4, 2010 at 13:41

  19. Interesting…my great grandmother’s name was Valborg (she was Danish).


    May 4, 2010 at 16:52

  20. Have never heard or seen this festival, a thousand years of tradition. Must be very exciting and magical moment.


    May 4, 2010 at 18:13

  21. deb

    I love learning things from you. I told you that already, I know.
    But you share with the right amount of info, the pics, the eye that sees beauty.


    May 4, 2010 at 19:51

  22. That’s so cool!


    May 4, 2010 at 20:28

  23. LadyFi: That is a neat way to welcome the coming of Spring.


    May 4, 2010 at 22:13

  24. Po

    Wow, glad to hear they are not into burning witches!


    May 5, 2010 at 00:14

  25. I love the legend and that shot of the fire is incredible! It’s against the law to build a bonfore here in NYC! 🙂


    May 5, 2010 at 00:27

  26. Clive

    Love reading about traditions around the world. Bonfires were always traditionally lit here on the night of 1 May as well for much the same reasons …

    Have a husband who must be lost on the streets of Stockholm tonight for we have yet to hear from him …. and he left yesterday morning!

    Think the ‘ash’ might keep him away for a bit longer too! Looks like our flight ban is coming into force again tomorrow morning ….


    May 5, 2010 at 00:43

  27. beautiful photos, especially the last one
    the flames are so dramatic

    tradition keeps us grounded, that’s what my grandmother always said


    May 5, 2010 at 02:11

  28. that was so interesting!

    the header photo on my blog is the headquarters of the Mumbai Municipal corporation
    thank you


    May 5, 2010 at 02:43

  29. Love traditions from other cultures!


    May 5, 2010 at 06:15

  30. all the fire will herald in a hot summer?


    May 5, 2010 at 07:52

  31. Interesting. Love old traditions. A great big fire – love that last photo!


    May 5, 2010 at 07:55

  32. That looks like great fun.


    May 5, 2010 at 11:34

  33. I know it’s all been said already, but I’ll say it again. I enjoy reading fun posts like this about traditions in different parts of the world, and of course the photos are great.

    Your story also made me think of the Christmas tree, which is a leftover of an old “pagan” ritual/tradition, and in itself has nothing to do with the Christian story of the birth of Christ.

    I know that in places like Brazil the African slaves incorporated all sorts of African religious beliefs with the Christian (Catholic) religion. Very interesting.


    May 5, 2010 at 13:40

  34. Just stopped by to say there is an award for you on my site.


    May 5, 2010 at 17:40

  35. Interesting. Thanks for the education, and looking at bonfires is a bit hypnotic.


    May 5, 2010 at 17:57

  36. That’s quite a fire to welcome spring, Fi! Hopefully, your warmer weather will stay.


    May 5, 2010 at 19:00

  37. Ya gotta love a good fire and hey to welcome warm weather is even better. Thanks for sharin’ the history behind the fire.

    Ya’ll have a wonderfully blessed day!!!


    May 5, 2010 at 22:50

  38. Fabulous post. I knew nothing of Walpurgis Eve. I LOVE learning about such wonderful traditions.


    May 6, 2010 at 01:57

  39. I love hearing about all the things you celebrate that we do not..it is an education..I think I like this tradition..bonfires and singing.. did you have hot dogs too? 🙂


    May 6, 2010 at 06:53

    • No hot dogs, although some kids toasted marshmallows in the embers.


      May 6, 2010 at 08:40

  40. And another award for you. Promise not to pass any more on for a bit…


    May 6, 2010 at 13:58

  41. Light to chase away the dark – a wonderful tradition.


    May 8, 2010 at 02:43

  42. Pingback: Smoke gets in your eyes « Lady Fi

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