May Day

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning witches´ night), the night from April 30 (May eve), is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg (the highest of the Harz Mountains of north central Germany)  hold revels with their Gods, and await the arrival of Spring.

In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived christianized custom around Easter called “Easter fires”.

In rural parts of southern Germany it is part of popular youth culture to go out on Walburgisnacht to play pranks on other people, like messing up someone’s garden, hiding stuff or spraying messages on other people’s property. Sometimes these pranks go too far and may result in serious willful damage to property or bodily injury.

Walpurgis (sw: Valborg) is one of the main holidays during the year in both Sweden and Finland, alongside Christmas and Midsummer. The forms of celebration in Sweden vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which began in Uppland during the 18th century. An older tradition from Southern Sweden was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight, which were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task is to be paid in eggs.

Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto) is, along with New Year’s Eve, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of “Vappu“. From the end of the 19th century, “Fin de Siècle“, and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. Many people who have graduated from lukio wear the cap.

One tradition is drinking sima, whose alcohol content varies. Fixtures include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku. Both are sophomoric; but while Julkku is a standard magazine, Äpy is always a gimmick. Classic forms have included an Äpy printed on toilet paper and a bedsheet. Often the magazine has been stuffed inside standard industrial packages such as sardine-cans and milk cartons. The festivities also include a picnic on May 1st, which is sometimes prepared in a lavish manner.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Soviet Era May Day parade. Starting with the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has nominated Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include right-wing parties, but also others like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches.

In Sweden it is only the labor and socialist parties which use May 1 for political activities, while others observe the traditional festivities. The laborers who were active in the 1970’s still party on the first of May. They arrange carnivals and the radio plays their old songs that workers liked to listen to. The labor spirit lies most in the capital of Finland, Helsinki.

The First of May is also a day for everything fun and crazy: children and families gather in market places to celebrate the first day of the spring and the coming summer. There are balloons and joy, people drink their first beers outside, there are clowns and masks and a lot of fun. The first of May includes colorful streamers, funny and silly things and sun. The first of May means the beginning of the spring for many people in Finland.

Traditionally May 1st is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Kaivopuisto in the case of Helsinki). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hard-core party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between. Some Student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. As with other Vappu traditions, the picnic includes student caps, sima, streamers and balloons

The tradition which is most widespread throughout the country is probably singing songs of spring. Most of the songs are from the 19th century and were spread by students’ spring festivities. The strongest and most traditional spring festivities are also found in the old university cities, like Uppsala and Lund where both current and graduated students gather at events that take up most of the day from early morning to late night on April 30, or “sista April” (“The last day of April”) as many people call it. There are also newer student traditions like the carnival parade, The Cortège, which has been held since 1909 by the students at Chalmers in Gothenburg. In Sweden, Valborg is especially notorious because of the excessive amounts of alcohol people consume on that day.

Found at: Nation Master

The serpent or snake is a symbol of May because of its ancient association with fertility. This association dates back to the earliest Pagan religions, and though later religions cropped up casting the serpent in a deceitful role, the Earth religions still honor the snake as a blessed creature this time of year. Its way of slithering along the body of the Earth made it an obvious phallic symbol, and May Day is full of such symbols (the maypole being the most well-known one).

The holiday of Beltane comes on the first of May and encourages those who celebrate life to greet spring’s bounty with festivities, and that of course always involves food. This snake-shaped cake, incorporating appropriate seasonal ingredients, is a wonderful addition to a party table.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • The zest of one orange
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons honey, boiling
  • 1/2 cup strong espresso coffee
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup amaretto or rum
  • /3 cup wild cherry or raspberry jam
  • Garnish: 4 coffee beans and some candied orange peel, in slices

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400º F. Mix the sugar, spices, zest, soda, and salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut in the butter until little pebbles form. Pour in the honey, coffee, and liqueur, and mix in the egg. Mix the batter until everything is evenly distributed and you have a nice soft dough. Let it cool.

Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Roll one half into an 18-inch rope. Make a deep trough down the center and fill it with jam. Seal it by bringing the edges up over the jam and pressing the seam together. Then flip it seam-side-down onto a parchment-paper-covered baking sheet. Arrange the snake in a circle, but don’t press the ends together. Make one end tapered like the end of a snake’s tail, and make the other end triangular like a snake’s head.

Press in coffee beans for eyes and orange rind for scales if desired. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough and bake them for 30 minutes.

Yield: 2 snake cakes.
Source: Beltane, by Grimassi

This is a very crusty and somewhat dry bread that is incredibly delicious and almost pastry-like in its sweetness. It is ideal for May Day/Beltane celebrations.

Ingredients:

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup real maple syrup
  • ¼ cup warm water (105ºF-115ºF)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup shortening

Directions:

Dissolve yeast in the water. Mix 1 ½ cups of the flour with the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in shortening. Dissolve the syrup into the yeast mix too. Add yeast mix to the flour mix; stir. Add flour until dough is easy to handle. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Cover and let rise for 15 minutes. Form into round, place on cookie sheet. Let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Slice pleasing image into bread top. Bake for 30 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Loaf can be brushed with syrup or butter during last 5 minutes of baking.

NOTE: Your bread will have trouble rising if the syrup is too cold! Warm up the syrup if it has been in the refrigerator, it should be room temperature or warmer.

Yield: 1 loaf
Source: A Kitchen Witch’s Cookbook

  • 1 cup sweet woodruff
  • 2 bottles rose’ wine
  • 4 dozen rose petal ice cubes
  • 1 quart strawberries
  • 1 quart chopped peaches
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white rum
  • 2 bottles champagne
  • 1 bottle white wine
  • 1 liter lemon-lime soda

Two weeks before serving: clean woodruff and pack into one bottle of wine. Cork and let sit.

The day before serving: make four dozen ice cubes by placing rose petals in the compartments before adding water. Freeze until solid.

Hull and wash the strawberries. Slice. Mix peaches and strawberries. Add sugar and rum. Marinate overnight.

An hour before serving: Strain woodruff out of wine and discard leaves. Mix champagne, all remaining wine, lemon-lime soda, and fruit in a large bowl. Stir.

Add ice cubes 15 minutes before serving. Serves 20.

Dancing with the Sun
by Jasmine Yalenorn

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