Walpurgis in Uppsala The history of the celebrations


From medieval times, Walpurgis Eve or April 30 ( which translates to ‘Last of April’ in Swedish), has been a time of spring folk celebrations, especially in the eastern parts of Sweden. In the centuries past, there are many records of Uppsala students marking the occasion, and ancient bills for food and drinks have been preserved that indicate that their revels were truly wild.

In the early 19th century students started a tradition of going up to Castle Hill to watch the bonfires on the surrounding plain. Those who could sing banded together and this was the birth of our student glee clubs. There are records of the song ‘Spring has come’ being sung near the castle as far back as 1823. Eventually it became a tradition to toast the King and country and perhaps make a speech to greet the spring. By the late 19th century the tradition grew to involve the entire Student Union and it became customary for the Vice-President of the Union to deliver an address to the spring. This acclaimed speech has been broadcast on national radio every year since 1926 (with the exception of 1951), with the speechmaking role being adopted by the Curator Curatorum from 1971 i.e. the leader of the council of the presidents of the student nations (province-based social clubs). As is the tradition, the Gunilla Bell is rung, and the Allmänna Sången choir performs. The Castle Hill celebrations, beginning at 9pm sharp, rank highly among student ceremonies in Sweden.

The ‘Donning of the Caps’ takes place in front of our University Library; Carolina Rediviva. At exactly 3pm in the afternoon the Vice-Chancellor waves his white cap from the library balcony, a signal for everyone below to don their white student caps and run down the hill toward town. This creates an effect that has often been described as ‘a whole hillside of white anemones’. Balloons ascend to the sky and the thousands upon thousands of reveling students, alumni, families, and friends begin to cheer.

In the early 20th century the ‘Donning of the Caps’ was simply a matter of everyone putting on their student cap for the first time after winter when they went out in the morning on April 30th. Since then it has become customary to gather at the bottom of the hill and don the cap at 3pm. Over the years the crowd has grown further and further up the hill toward the library. In the 1950s the then Vice-Chancellor Torgny Segerstedt came up with the idea of raising his cap as a signal to begin the ‘Donning of the Caps’, and the present tradition was established.

In the mid 1970s Uppsala engineering students began the tradition of running the rapids of the Fyris River on rafts. Many imaginatively themed and manned vessels try their luck in navigating the two falls and the final float downstream through the town. It is a grand and popular tradition.