April 30 – Double Celebration in Sweden

Posted on April 30, 2019

April 30 is the birthday of Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden. If past years are any indication, the day might start off with a salute to the king from the armed forces, choral singing, and the Changing of the Guard. Children in attendance have an opportunity to present flowers to their king. 

At midday there might be a 21-gun salute, followed by a luncheon and reception for the entire government, including County Governors. In the evening there will be a banquet at the Royal Palace at the capital city, Stockholm. 

But April 30 is also Valborg - aka Walpurgis Night. This welcoming of spring is a public event. It usually involves a community bonfire and often features a speech by a local celebrity. Of course there is choral singing (Swedes are pretty big on choral singing!).

Some Swedish universities do Valborg in a big way - and all day. At Uppsala, things start off at 10 in the morning with the Running of the Falls, when floats of all shapes and sizes and colors float down the Fyris River and go down two falls. That sounds super dangerous, but I guess we're not talking Niagara Falls here! Instead, we are talking about very low falls, probably artificial:

There are also "Champagne Races" where students both drink and spray at one another sparkling wine - don't worry, the walls and floors of the university buildings are covered with plastic! - sometimes with enough spilled champagne students are literally wading through it! 

At 3 in the afternoon, there is the Donning of the Caps. This seems a bit calm after "facing" waterfalls in homemade floats and sloshing and splashing and spraying sparkling wine: everyone gathers together in front of the University Library, and the Vice-Chancellor waves her white student cap. The masses of students all wave their caps (many decorated with Walpurgis pins, collectables created by the university) in response, and then put the caps on.

I guess, back in the day, students wore their special student caps every day. In winter they wore black caps, and in spring and summer they wore white - and that is why donning the white caps was a big "welcome spring" deal.

Of course, the uni students also do loads of bonfires and singing, like the rest of the Swedes!

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April 29 - Peace Rose Day

Posted on April 29, 2019

So many people love roses. What's not to love? They smell divine, and they're gorgeous to look at. I particularly like yellow roses, and I most especially like yellow roses with hints of pink on their edges.

Well, guess what? That's exactly the coloration of the Peace Rose!

You may well wonder why this rose has this name...

The French man who developed this hybrid rose, Francis Meilland, knew that his nation would soon be invaded by Nazis. (This was in 1935.) To protect his new rose, he sent cuttings to horticulturalist friends in Italy, Turkey, Germany, and the United States. The horticulturalists grew many more of the lovely yellow-blushing-pink roses and discovered that they were hardy and resistant to pests.

by Carol Cavalaris
Near the end of the war, Meilland wrote to British Field Marshall Alan Brooke. He expressed his gratitude for Brooke's actions in liberating France from the Nazis, and he asked if he could name his new rose after Brooke.

Brooke said he was honored to be asked but that "Peace" would be a better and longer-lasting name. 

The day in 1945 that the name "Peace Rose" was announced in the U.S., it just so happened that Berlin fell. This was an important turning point in the war, and it made the Peace Rose name even more appropriate.

Later on that same year, the delegations for the new organization called the United Nations met in San Francisco. Each of the delegations was given a Peace Rose.

April 28 - Åland Islands' Flag Day

Posted on April 28, 2019

(Last Sunday of April)

The Åland Islands are the only region of Finland in which the vast majority of the people speak Swedish as their first language.

Unlike the rest of Finland, which provide schooling in just Finnish, or in both Swedish and Finnish, schools on these islands are taught only in Swedish.

Since 94% of all Finns speak at least two languages, and since many Europeans are quite casual about being able to speak in multiple languages, I don't want to guess how many Åland Islanders speak Finnish as well as Swedish. I will say that several sources referred to the islands as the only province of Finland that are mono-linguistically or uni-lingually Swedish.

While contemplating these facts, I decided to check out the islands to see where they were located. 

Hmm... They're about halfway between Sweden and Finland. 

You probably know my next question: why do the Åland Islands belong to Finland instead of Sweden?

It turns out that, back in the early 1800s, Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden. When the Kingdom of Sweden and the Russian Empire fought a war in 1808 and 1809, Russia won. Finland then became a part of Russia - and the Åland Islands were part of the spoils of war, because they were of "strategic use" to Russia. 

Because of that 1809 land transfer, the islands were bundled together politically with was called the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. And when Russia went through a revolution, in 1917, Finland declared its independence. Of course the islands were a part of the new nation, as they had been separated from Sweden at that point longer than a century.

Apparently, being autonomous includes
having their own postage stamps.
Since the 1920s, the Åland Islands are considered an autonomous province of Finland. That means that, unlike most Finnish provinces, there is little or no representation by national office-holders on the Åland Islands. Unlike other Finnish men, the islanders do not have to serve from six months to a year in the Finnish Defense Forces. The islands have no military facilities and are considered neutral. 

Notice that the flag of Sweden: 

...is the basis of the flag of the Åland Islands:

The red Nordic cross placed on top of the blue-and-yellow Swedish flag, on the Åland Islands flag, represents Finland. Red was used because the old-time colors of Finland are yellow and red.
National arms of the
Kingdom of Finland,
circa 1918

But nowadays the Finnish flag is blue and white:

By the way, the islands are quite beautiful:

This looks like a flying saucer, but it's really a "future
home" built on one of the islands...

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