Valborg is Sweden’s best-kept secret. I’ve never met anyone without ties to the country that has heard of their celebration of “siste april”. But if you’re a student in Uppsala or Lund, it’s what you’re counting down to the whole semester.
Traditionally, Valborg (or Walpurgis Night) is the celebration of the beginning of spring. (Yes, spring comes quite late in the Nordics – though maybe not as late as in Edmonton. But that is a complaint for another time.) I’m sure there are a whole lot more details than that, and I’m pretty sure they were taught to me while I lived in Uppsala, but the most important aspect is the alcohol. Swedes do love their drink. So much so, in fact, that simply celebrating on the last day of April was not enough. At least in Uppsala, the party now begins on Skvalborg (28 April), with a full day’s drinking on Kvalborg (29 April), before some drinking in the park and a champagne-galopp on Valborg (30 April). Then, of course, you have to celebrate the first of May, so you might as well have a hair of the dog in the morning, eat some shrimp, and go out again that night.
I’ve celebrated Valborg in Uppsala twice. The first was, of course, while I was studying there. My expectations were set by my Swedish friends and former attendees who raved about how great it was. Even my Swedish class had a lesson about how nearly 100,000 students take over the city for a few days. I was so excited in the weeks leading up to it that I had nightmares that I flew home before the end of my exchange and had no money to pay for my flight back in time for Valborg.
All of my wildest expectations were exceeded. Kvalborg, Valborg, Första Maj – every party was different and so incredibly fun. We danced outside in the middle of the day at Stockholms Nation on Kvalborg, drank in Ekonomikumparken and sprayed champagne on each other at Snerikes Nation on Valborg, and got drunk on wine and shrimp at Göteborgs Nation on 1 May. My North American friends and I were a bit overwhelmed and most certainly tuckered out by the end of it.
Needless to say, I knew this was an experience I would need to have again, especially since you can only get into Uppsala’s nations as a student and I only had a year left of my degree. So the next year, as a graduation present, I booked a ticket to Uppsala via Iceland to celebrate earning my Bachelor of Commerce.
I felt a lot more prepared for round 2 since I knew what to expect. Of course, that just made me even more excited. I had nightmares that my flight to Reykjavik actually took me to Boston and I couldn’t make it to Sweden in time.
I was staying with Canadian friends, some of whom had experienced Valborg before, and they were eager to keep the party going as long as possible. We started drinking on the 27th and I don’t think I stopped until I left for my flight on 2 May. Even then I may have had a swig from one of my mini bottles just to keep the feeling alive.
My second Valborg experience was even crazier than the first. There were house parties, nation parties, late nights spent watching the NHL playoffs in the wrong timezone, over 200 matches on Tinder, and bruises and injuries whose origins I could not account for. In some aspects it was even better than round 1, despite that fact that we left the bar in the early hours of 1 May only to be greeted by a blanket of snow.
In 2015 I stayed home. I ran a 10 km race in Germany and had a beer. It was okay.
But this year, living in Copenhagen, I knew I couldn’t pass up a different Valborg experience. Uppsala and Lund are the cities most associated with the holiday because they have such large student populations. Being just a short train ride away from Lund, I had to see what it was like there.
Things have changed since round 2, of course. I’m not a student anymore. Now I’m pretty much a grown-up working a 9-5 job and going to bed at a reasonable hour. I knew there was no way I’d be partying for four days straight, but I thought heading over on 30 April to drink in the park would be a nice experience.
This time I had no nightmares leading up to the day. However, when I left work on Friday afternoon I was so excited that I biked a little faster than usual and ended up crashing. Totally my fault, and I later found out that crashing your bike is something of a rite of passage in Copenhagen. But having bandaged up hands and massive bruises, not to mention a fat lip, limited the extent of my partying somewhat.
Thankfully I had a few friends from Uppsala who also happened to be celebrating in Lund this year so I wasn’t totally alone. There is no champagne-galopp in Lund so everyone – and I mean everyone – goes to Statsparken to drink during the day. I was overwhelmed by how many people were there compared to Ekonomikumparken. Eventually I just parked myself on a hill, cracked open a beer, made some new friends, met some old friends, practiced my Swedish, ate some meatballs, bought a kanelbulle, and went home ten hours later.
It was no wild and crazy week as in years past, but I’m glad I took the opportunity to check it out. Plus, Lund seems like a lovely place with some really friendly people. Vi kanske ses igen?