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TRADITION!
Yesterday, Karin's little boyfriend Jonatan was over at our house playing for a bit and when he left he loaned his Bionicle to Karin (who slept with it clutched tightly in her hand all night) and forgot his bicycle helmet in our laundry room. So we took it with us this morning to daycare to return it to him. On the way across the playground, Karin held the helmet up to her face and sniffed in deeply. "It smells like Jonatan," she said. "Ehggg," I responded. "Jonatan smells GOOD," she informed me and smiled.

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
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mood: working
music: Grace Pool—Radio Religion


Comments

I've been thinking a lot about baptisms lately, since my niece will be baptized soon. I found this really neat secular ceremony on line. It's the kind of thing I'd like to do if and when the time comes:

Baby Naming/Welcoming
Sample Welcoming by Terri Mandell

Welcome everybody to the ceremony that welcomes [baby] into her new family. [Mom] and [Dad] are so happy that you could be here with them as their family and extended family, to share your love and your blessings with their beautiful child. And perhaps most importantly, we thank [baby] for bringing us all together in joy.

There are many ways to define a family. And although [baby], [Parents] are bonded physically by genetics, they are also bonded by something deeper. Their 3 souls have chosen each other as companions and teachers for their journey in this life, and this is the truest spiritual sense of family. In addition to that, all of you here are part of the same bond. On a soul level, you have all chosen each other as family members, whether or not you're related by blood. And now that [baby] has joined the family and you're all here today, you can share your love in this special ceremony to make her welcome.

We'd like to begin by asking each of you to state your personal and special wishes for [baby] (each person takes a turn making a statement).

In the spirit of love, I ask you all now to make a solemn vow to this precious child. Do you agree to provide [baby] with unwavering love throughout your lives, to support her highest endeavors, her growth and independence, and her wish to follow whatever path her heart chooses? (WE DO).

(Hold baby toward the four directions)

We turn to the east, the essense of air, to give us breath, openness, sight and an understanding that each new moment is a new opportunity for growth.

We turn to the South, essense of fire, to empower us with passion, energy and light.

We turn to the West, essence of water, to deepen our spiritual awareness and our capacity for feeling emotion.

We turn to the North, essence of earth, to ground and center us, and to give us a sense of home wherever we are.

We ask that this child be guided and blessed by her own instinct and inner light.

We wish for her the greatest love and peace, and the confidence and widsom to find her own path in life.

As her family, we will help lead her to her own inner strengths, so that she may fulfill all of her desires and potential as she grows through life.

May the earth give her strength and security to help keep her grounded and focused.

May the winds give her the gift of communication to help her understand others and to let others understand her.

May the waters teach her to listen to her own intuition and to understand the depths of love and emotion.

And may the flames of passion spark creativity, exuberance and positive life force.

I now present to you, [baby], [Dad] and [Mom] as a new, loving family on this earth, and unite you all as one, enduring extended family.

I wish I'd known about this when my kids were tiny! :S

I know a lot of Swedes that go to church on a regular basis (including my husband and his family, and many of his friends) but none of them belong to the Swedish church. Many of the non-denominational churches here don't baptize young children, which is good because that freaks me out that they don't have a choice in the matter. My father-in-law used to be a pastor, too (also not in the Swedish church). My American family (including me) are not into organized religion . . I guess we're backwards from many of the American/Swedish couples :) but because we share the same values (just express them differently) it works for us.

That's really interesting, etenebris, thanks for the comment. I know there MUST be people who do go to church, I guess I just don't hang out with them, or at least they are not so vocal about their church activities and attendance as people in the States tend to be. *rolling eyes*

As far as I'm concerned about baptism and babies with "no choice," I figure it doesn't hurt anybody, it's painless and it certainly doesn't mean they have no choice later as to what they choose to believe or how they live their lives. I fully intend to teach my children the golden rule, but allow them to form their own beliefs about religion from the outside. :) I have a feeling though, that when it comes time for confirmation age, we might have a bit more heated discussion going on in regards to the inevitability of tradition because I don't honestly see the need for it.

Interesting history about the north and south sides of the church. There seemed to be a very different way of seeing things way back when. I remember my ex telling me that his great-grandfather fathered 23 children, but it took 3 wives to do it. When he wore one out and she died, he just got another. *laugh*

Which is better, I suppose, than my thrice great-grandfather, who had 7 wives at one time, including 2 sets of sisters. Mormon. He fathered 15 children on my grandmother of choice and god knows how many on the others!

hahaha...i love it when you give little tidbits of info about sweden and swedish history!!

one thing im curious about though, not necessarily having to do with swedish traditions, is why do people have their children baptized if they are not religious?

Well, (I said this in another comment here) at the time I figured it didn't hurt anybody, it's painless (unlike circumcision) and to my way of thinking it doesn't really have anything to do with what they will believe and how they will behave in regards to "religion" whent they grow up. I plan to try and raise my children with a well-established sense of right and wrong and compassion and etc etc, but they can decide what they want to believe in on their own when they're ready. :)

I love it when you give us little lessons on stuff. It really gives you a sense of how much history you have over there compared to the U.S. I love those stories. The thing about women sitting on the north side of the church just reinforces my absolute disdain for Western religons. I don't know if I had kids if I could be impartial enough to let them decide what they believe in, kudos to you.

It's actually hard for me to talk to them about God in more than the most general of terms. They hear about stuff from friends and in class and Martin also goes to a music class at the congregational house in the village. But when a little kid is looking at you and asking about God and Jesus and etc etc, and you're not sure yourself whether you believe in the God most people worship, it's really difficult to know what to say. I want to try and be fairly neutral when it comes to religion in general. So, I figure that trying to raise them with a good sense of morals and ethics is what is really important.

That is so cute - see, even at a young age we can tell that boys have a certain "boy smell"... :)

Hmm... not surprised in the least by the info about churches... typical, misogynistic behavior...

However, I did not know as much about the mythology behind Walpurgis -very interesting... I had a friend from Czech Republic who used to tell me about it...

Why was the name Valborg not included on the calendar though? Superstition?

dunno. They've changed the name days calendar here in Sweden a couple of times over the centuries. It might be because it was 1) not Swedish (originally) and 2) not common.

I love the Karin story ;)
And as always thanks for the Swedish history lesson!

I vehemently opposed baptizing and indoctrinating Alex into the Church of Sweden, so he isn't.

Also, no point in having northerly windows when the sun is always to the south, eh?

heh. good point :)

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