My mom was exhausted and decided to stay home and be cozy. Matt and I put on what we thought would be a decent amount of clothing and headed out with some trepidation —
After some torrid headlines in the DN, I was expecting drunken teenagers and ridiculous crowds, pickpockets, and general stupidity around the bonfire. Instead, we got off the train at Gamla Stan and walked through the quiet streets of Riddarholmen, wondering if we were going to the right place.
Matt’s Swedish teacher had said that the Gamla Stan event was the best, better than the one at Skansen (the tourist history park in the Djurgården), and most like a true folk festival. She also said to get there by 7 pm, so when we arrived at 7:30 to find the quai almost empty, we were a bit surprised.
So we bought some licorice and candy ropes from one of the stands (also traditional, for some reason) and settled in to wait. A volunteer band struck up and played some old Swedish classics and American jazz (“New York, New York”??) in slightly drunken tempos and pitch. A pleasure boat pulled up alongside the quai. The crowd began to swell as the sun set.
By 8:30 pm, after a marching band had played some Swedish classics (the women behind us sang along to a waltz-like song about the beauty of Stockholm), two people came forward from a crowd of folks holding torches and set fire to the base of the pile of wood and rubbish at the center of the quai. A few minutes later, and whoosh — conflagration!
By this time, the open mic session had begun, and an a capella choral group had broken into “Mamma Mia” — and Matt and I were freezing, despite the warmth of the crowd and the blazing fire. We bolted as soon as the sun had completely set.
Matt has some incriminating video of me, where I say, “It’s no Sechsaleuten, but it’s pretty awesome.”
A nice description of the history and traditions of Walpurgis can be found here: http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Lifestyle/Traditions/Celebrating-the-Swedish-way/Walpurgis-Eve—and-1-May/