Today, students all over Sweden, get to wear their student hats for the first time. In Sweden we call it “mösspåtagning,” and it’s a sure sign spring is here. Tomorrow, we celebrate Walpurgis night/Valborgsmässoafton, and all the bonfires will have choirs wearing their student hats, singing to welcome spring.
Looking back to the beginning of the 1900’s, when my great grandmother Olga graduated from her education at the Govan Parochial Hospital in Glasgow, and the following year was accepted to the Swedish mission in China, the number of students in Sweden was considerably lower than it is today, not to speak of the ratio male/female students.
Statistics from the year 1900 tell us there were 796 male and 49 female students who graudated back then. At the time, there were about 5 million inhabitants in Sweden. 2021 we were 10,4 million inhabitants, and the number of students were 48 000 male students versus 45 000 female. We have surely come a long way since my great grandmother Olga started out.
I think Olga was very brave, going to Scotland at the turn of the century, together with but one close friend, learning English without any previous knowledge. She first went to a housekeeping school, but felt it was very harsh and diffcult and thus left to start off working at a hospital where they cared for the poor. Learning medical skills as well as a new language must have been hard for a maid with very little previous eduaction.
It’s certainly very inspiring to think about her strong will to make this work and how she managed to get very good reviews after spending three years at the hospital, taking all the courses she could, working on her English and spending her precious free time at the Glasgow Seamens Friend Society, helping the sailors with spiritual issues at their boarding houses and reading during Christian services. She was a very devoted and hard working person.
I don’t know if Olga really celebrated her graduation. It must have been both a happy and a sad occasion, as she was to leave her life in Scotland to go back to Sweden, not knowing if she was going to be accepted to the mission in China.
But an uncertain future is part of every student’s life and this year, students in Sweden are at least able to celebrate Walpurgis, something that has been cancelled the last two years due to Covid-19. If you would like to see how one of the nation’s finest choirs celebrate spring – have a look here:
As for Olga, perhaps she celebrated Walpurgis. She was, after all, the daughter of a peasant/fisherman, and in the 1900´s this was a day of celebration for the working class. Walpurgis was brought to Sweden from Germany and the bonfires were there to chase away witches, predators and supernatural entities before the peasants let their live stock out to graze after the long winter.
Today, we celebrate Walpurgis to welcome spring and the light that floods Sweden during summertime. And today, just as over a 100 years ago, Walpurgis is a very wet festivity. Lots of alcohol is consumed and this year will probably be wetter than ever, as there has been a two-year pause and everybody is just longing for a big party.
Happy Valborg and congratulations to all students putting their hats on today!