Sunday, May 01, 2011

Volbriöö/ Kevadpüha

Volbriöö is a night in Estonia where I am certain I will decide to get home early and stay there.

In many places, it is called Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht), and is a traditional spring festival on 30 April or 1 May in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Its celebration is associated with dancing and with bonfires. And drinking. Lots of drinking.

The festival is named after Saint Walburga (ca. 710-777/9). Walburga was canonized on 1 May (ca. 870), so she became associated with May Day, especially in the Finnish and Swedish calendars. The eve of May day, traditionally celebrated with dancing, came to be known as Walpurgisnacht (or Volbriöö in Estonian). Because the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches, some modern people still dress up as witches to wander the streets in a carnival-like mood.

Volbriöö celebrations are especially popular among college communities such as Tartu, the university town in southern Estonia that we visited last month. Estonian students in fraternities and sororities will march through the streets of Tartu, followed by visiting each others' frat houses throughout the night. The festivities are so raucous that the sale of alcohol is prohibited in many places in the country, including the city of Tallinn, beginning at 5 pm on the 30th and continuing until 10am on the 1st.

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated throughout the night of April 30th and into the wee hours of May 1, which is a public holiday called "Spring Day" (Kevadpüha). You might have noticed that the Estonians are not celebrating "May Day," or the international workers' holiday. This is because Estonians were required to celebrate May Day during Soviet Times, and since regaining their independence twenty years ago (now THAT is a celebration I am looking forward to seeing!), they no longer mark the 1st of May in that way. Now, it is the culmination of Volbriöö and celebrates the arrival of spring. And for as much winter as Estonia gets, I certainly understand celebrating that!

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