During the past 3 weeks I have been to more bbqs than I would usually go to in a year, and incidentally, have eaten more sausages than I would usually eat in 6 months. This grilling frenzy isn’t limited to our household either; it seems to have infected the whole of Göteborg.
And what is responsible for this strange happenstance? Spring.
The last two weekends have been clear and sunny, and every place where grass grows has been covered in Swedes, from parks, the sides of canals, gardens and conveniently placed deckchairs. Many people are chatting with friends, some eating, but for the most part people are just basking in the sun. Though I come from a place that is known for sunny weather, I have never really enjoyed it as much as I have these past few weeks. Now I can bask happily, making up for the months of cloud, rain and fog, and hope to gather in enough heat to last before the wheel turns to winter.
I have also been able to understand the meaning of the seasons since I have been here. In Australia we follow the European seasons; Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. As my homeland lies in the southern hemisphere the seasons are precisely flipped, so that Summer is Winter, and Autumn is Spring, etc… This isn’t the only difference that I have found however. While the march of the seasons is recognisable, in Australia it isn’t anything like the changing seasons in Europe. Not only rain and encroaching chill in Autumn and snow in Winter, but Spring… Well, it’s as though an enormous bucket of colour was spilt over the country. Trees that only a month ago were bare and stragledy are now heavy with light green leaves, and flowers of all colours and sprouting between trees, in pots and all over whatever grassy area they can find.
First came the snow drops, tiny white bell-shaped flowers on the sides of footpaths and under trees. Next were stands of daffodils, then tulips popped up in gardens, mostly red and yellow. Most recent are the cherry trees and apple trees covered in masses of pink and white flowers, whose petals litter the city. I don’t know what will be next, but I’m looking forward to roses, especially in Trädgårdsföreningen.
In addition to the opportunity for bbqs, the changing seasons also bring festive days. As with Jul, Easter is celebrated in Australia, but as with Jul I know understand Easter much better. When you’ve only experienced the slow cooling of Summer to Autumn, and the only rebirth around is the sudden rise in chocolate sales, I don’t think I ever truly understood Easter. Having lived through the end of Winter and watched green return I now know why there is a festival of rebirth at that time of year. I also better understand the excitement of the 1st of May. One festival that I hadn’t really been aware of was last Wednesday, the 30th of April; Valborg.
I had been confused about the name of the day and then continued to confuse Swedes by asking what it meant. Mostly I got blank faces, and someone realising that it was his fathers birthday and rushing off to call him, until someone brought out their smart phone. It would seem that it has something to do with Saint Valborg, and for some reason students wearing white hats. Valborg seemed to me a strange name, but what do I know about Scandinavian names. I’m still not convinced about Knut for example.
Then the bbq continued and I forgot about strange names, and missed the Chalmers University parade (featuring Putin, North Korea and Ryan Air – they are students after all) and the bonfires that were burning throughout the country.
The next morning I woke up and thought I’d do a bit of blogging, and looked up Valborg. Like every other northern-European festival it can be traced way back to pagan traditions. It used to be called Walpurgis (and probably still is in some places) and was a celebration of the change from Winter to Spring, as well as the time when the barrier between the world of the dead and the world of the living was at its weakest. It then transformed into a celebration of the saint (coincidentally with a similar name) and her power over witches and representatives of the old religions. Now only the bonfires, traditional songs and parades remain, a link that has been altered but not broken since before written memory.
Another wonderfully Swedish day was yesterday, the 1st of May. Not only was it the first day of Spring but it was the Swedish equivalent of Labour Day. All over the country crowds gathered in squares to protest. Protest against what, you ask? That seemed to depend which party you’re inclined towards. As I was at a bbq (of course) I didn’t see any of them but I did hear that the Social Democrats were supporting the change to a 6 hour work-day and the Feminist Initiative were protesting against racism. It also explained why our bbq spot was so very quiet – on such a fine day only traditional festivities could pull Swedes away from picnics and basking in the sun.
As I write, the sun is shining, the wind of blowing, and teenage girls are screaming on the ride at the recently re-opened Liseberg. Spring has arrived, and the country has come alive again.