Beautiful Sign of Spring: Singing Robin
Here's a fascinating, or disturbing, tidbit of tradition for you. In Sweden (and possibly everywhere, as it wouldn't surprise me in the least), churches were traditionally built in a specific directional layout, with the altar and apse in the east and the entrance and spire in the west. But the thing that surprised me is this: Traditionally women sat on the north (left) side of the church and the men on the south (right) side. This has nothing to do with sitting at the right hand or left hand of Christ, but rather that if the North Wind, typically the strongest and most dangerous, should blow hard enough to knock down the walls or roof of the church, the men would be more likely to be spared if they were on the south side and could thus return to the fields (and presumably find new women) to plow and harvest.
Many churches were deliberately built without windows on the north side, since the "weather of death" sent by the Lord of Darkness most often made its entrance from that side. Suicides were also buried without ceremony, outside the church walls, on the north side.
There are still holdovers of this tradition in church wedding ceremonies where the families of the bride (woman) sit on the left and the groom's family on the right.
Expendable and replaceable. Nice.
Sweden's church and state separated officially just a few years ago, but I can't say I know ANY Swedes that go to church on a regular basis. However, nearly ALL of them are baptized and confirmed.
When Martin and Karin were babies, it wasn't really even a question so much as an assumption that they would be baptized in the Swedish (Lutheran) church. Since I'm not religious or affiliated with any particular church, this didn't bother me too much, although the whole idea of organized religion in general is not one that I'm particularly gung-ho for. Swedes tend to be extremely laissez-faire when it comes to church in general, which is perfectly fine with me.
It's Walpurgis Eve, here in Europe, and tomorrow is May Day, the Labor Day celebration around most of the world. I'm singing outdoors in two different concerts tonight to welcome May. Anders and the kids are going to a friend's house where the traditional bonfire will be built and hotdogs will be grilled.
Since medieval times, the day before Walpurgis Mass has been called Walpurgis Eve, the 30th of April. The name Valborg for the 1st of May was not included in the Swedish calendar before 1901, which shows how the strength of this folk festival has increased over the years in Swedish tradition. The customs surrounding Walpurgis are partly homegrown, and partly of German origin.
In Germany, Walpurgis night was the time for the Witches Sabbath, corresponding to the Eve of Good Friday in Swedish folklore. Therefore, bonfires were lit in the open to keep the witches away. This custom was brought by the Germans to the easter cities of Sweden, and thus to the entire country and assimilated in Sweden with other Year-bonfire traditions used during the time livestock were turned out to pasture, with the practical purpose of scaring away predators, instead of witches.
Walpurgis Eve was, for a long time, a local central and eastern tradition, which in the 1800's began to replace other bonfire traditions. There are still Easter bonfire traditions in the west of Sweden. Many Swedes practice choral singing in addition to gathering around the bonfire, and it is the traditional manner in which graduating high-school and university students have celebrated the coming of Spring for two centuries.
The bonfires are the central theme of these festivities, and they are lit on high places where they can be seen from a great distance. A torchlight procession opens the ceremony and people gather around the heat of the newly lit fire in the often chilly evening, and sing about the arrival of Spring. These are student customs and originally began two centuries ago in the two major university cities, Lund and Uppsala. The ceremonies commence at three in the afternoon, when thousands of students gather outside the university buildings. On the stroke of the hour, they start cheering and student caps are waved or thrown in the air simultaneously. After a period of silence, a speaker appears and talks about the future. The custom is completed by four cheers. The celebration is continued on Mayday, when a male student choir sings on the university steps.
The following day Swedes celebrate the national Mayday holiday. In olden times it was a secular festival, or a kind of "peoples party" combined with a court and the merchant assembly. This tradition developed and, in the 1880's, the labor movement selected this day for its annual celebration and parades. As time went by, this event grew larger and today includes workers' rallies, debates, speeches and other activities associated with labor and human rights issues in general.*
More Excellent Info on Walpurgis and the Saint it Was Named After: Valborg Eve by idahoswede
*Most of the info on Walpurgis Eve was excerpted from A Scent of Sweden by Kristina Kisthinios and the Bra Böckers Lexicon #24, 1990 edition