Witch festival puts the spring in your step?
Witch festival puts the spring in your step?

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?

Why, it’s Walpurgis Eve, of course. Marina Georgescu explains how it is a Christian festival that took over from the pagan celebration of Beltane, and why those flying objects might just be witches…

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?

Finally, spring is here, and the good news is that the hibernation period is over. Get ready to start meeting more people, making new friends and having more quality time outdoors.

For Swedes, the day that marks the start of spring and the end of a long winter is Walpurgis Eve, celebrated on April 30 each year.

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?
On Walpurgis Eve, April 30, Swedes welcome spring by lighting huge bonfires and celebrate the end of a long and dreary winter by singing spring songs. These songs were spread by students’ spring festivities and Walpurgis Night celebrations are especially festive in university towns. Photograph by Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se

The fires of Bel!

This festival is a blend between pagan traditions and Christian ones. A blend between Beltane (the fires of Bel), a Gaelic pagan holiday in honor of the Celtic Sun god Belenus, the popular belief that witches rode through the sky on this date, and a tribute to the 8th-century Christian missionary Saint Walpurga, whose feast day falls on the same day and was known to repel the effects of witchcraft, as well as the plague, rabies and whooping cough. Take your pick. Whatever it is, on this day fire is used to mark this important occasion. All around Sweden huge bonfires will be lit and every choir in the country will be busy, singing traditional 19th-century spring songs, while people gather around the fire for warmth, sharing and of course, yes, you guessed right: barbecuing. It’s another excuse to get together and enjoy the coming of a new season that is particularly well marked here in Norrland.

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?
Walpurgis Eve 2022 in Burträsk. Photograph by Donna Richmond.

Don’t feel SAD

Feeling SAD? Not anymore!

Known as a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern, SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is also known as the ‘winter depression’ since it is more severe during the winter months. If you have felt persistently low, or suffered a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities, been irritable, had feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness, been lethargic and sleepy during the day, found it hard to get up in the morning, craved carbohydrates and gained weight, had difficulty concentrating and had a decreased sex drive, then you might well be suffering from SAD. These symptoms can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life, and though not fully understood, it is often linked to a reduced exposure to sunlight that can prevent the hypothalamus from working properly and can affect the production of melatonin (higher than normal levels making you sleepy), serotonin (lower than normal affecting mood, appetite and sleep) and your circadian rhythm (body’s internal clock that can be disrupted).

Get in the sun!

In Sweden between 8% and 10% of the population suffers from it, especially in the north of Sweden where the light is scarcer during the dark months. However, there are ways to treat it and the most important things you can do is to get as much natural sunlight as possible (engage in outdoor activities as much as possible: walking, skiing, etc.), exercise regularly and manage your stress levels. Light therapy is also common, as well as talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or counselling. In more extreme cases the use of antidepressants or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Remember, always consult your doctor. The good news is that summer is right around the corner, so get into the mood for some spring celebration and go out and light your fire. This evening in Sweden is a special occasion so join the crowd and enjoy a carnival-like atmosphere that celebrates the rebirth of life and positivity for the future … Winter is officially over!

Big and public, or small and intimate?

You can decide how to celebrate this day. Valborgsmässoafton is more of a public experience and there are big events organised by the municipality in the city, as well as local associations or church groups in each town. The aim is to encourage community spirit in towns, villages and neighbourhoods. One of the biggest events in Skellefteå city is organised by the Swedish church between Bonnstan and Landskyrkan, and starts with an inspiring and uplifting speech to honour the arrival of the spring season, as well as the lighting of a huge bonfire, followed by traditional choir singing. If you prefer a more intimate gathering with family and friends, there are grilling places throughout Skellefteå municipality that you can use. Most of them already have wood. So it’s just about getting a picnic bag ready and good, warm waterproof clothes and sturdy shoes since the weather can be unpredictable. There are regulations that you can check on the municipality’s website under the heading ‘Valborgsmässoeldar’.

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?
Walpurgis Eve. Photograph by Aline Lessner/imagebank.sweden.se

Building a fire – polish your scout skills

If you are going to build your own fire, here are some useful tips. One of the best ways to build a long-lasting fire is to use the upside-down lay. With a typical campfire, you normally start with the smallest tinder or kindling, and then move on to larger-sized pieces of wood, and then add larger logs once the fire has started – this is a good method. However, if you don’t want to worry about “feeding” the fire at regular intervals, then this other method could be a winner. In the upside-down lay method, you start by laying the biggest logs at the base of the fire and then gradually adding perpendicular layers of smaller and thinner wood and kindling (twigs or branches) on top like a pyramid structure. The pieces get smaller as the stack goes up. On the final top layer is where you put the tinder (smallest, easiest-to-catch fire material or commercial fire starters that will ignite the fire). Once you light up the fire on the top it will burn downwards, and as each layer of the pyramid is consumed, the burning wood will sink and fall igniting the layer below. The fire feeds itself, and it is considered one of the best platform fires for cooking food. Another important detail to consider is the oxygen feed. The more of it, the faster the fire will burn, so you need to keep a balance. Since the idea is for it to burn slowly you can adjust the airflow rate by placing the wood close together and creating a ring of rock around the fire (although most of the municipality’s fireplaces already have this feature).

Witch festival puts the spring in your step?
Sausages taste better grilled over an open fire. Photograph by Per-Boge/Shutterstock

Picnic tips

Once the fire has started you are ready to grill your korvar on sticks that you can make yourself by taking thin long branches and using a knife to make the ends pointy. In Norrland the popular sausage is the falukorv that might seem intimidating but is actually good. You cut it into 1-2 cm slices (do not grill it whole!), and strategically find the right place to roast them so they don’t burn.

A popular vegetarian version is the pinnbröd which is very fun to make (you can find recipes online). It consists of a bread dough twirled on a stick, and can be filled with cheese and served with melted butter. Delicious!


You pre-make the dough at home, and then take out small pieces, flatten them and put big pieces of cheese inside, close the dough over and then roll both into a long sausage form, almost like playing with
Play-Doh, and then twirl it around a twig, like a spiral. You then cook it over the fire. It is both yummy and fun to watch as the dough puffs up and the cheese melts. Afterwards, when it is ready, you pull it off the stick and spread butter on it while it is still warm. An incredibly mouthwatering fire goodie. This is a must!

Hot drinks a must!

Finally, for dessert, you can roast some marshmallows, and for those of you who know about s’mores, why not incorporate this non-traditional scrumptious snack in the mix and teach your Swedish friends something new? Don’t forget hot beverages to help you stay warm, and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible if you are lucky and the weather is good.

Finally, have a wonderful Walpurgis Eve celebration!


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