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May 1, 2007

A-Maying Redux

Filed under: New Broads — by maggiec @ 3:42 pm

Linköping Cathedral against the sunIt’s May Day again, four years since I wrote the column below. Since that first Valborg’s I’ve pretty much skipped it. By the following year, we were always busy with something else. But this year I’ve moved to a different part of Sweden, Linköping, where I teach, and when a colleague invited me to the evening bonfire and choir performance, I said why not? Beats grading.

Linköping is a lot bigger than my old village—100,000 vs. 850—so this was a much grander affair than the one I first attended. This one was held on the banks of the Stång River, which runs near the edge of town. A choir sang, canoes came up the river with torches to light the bonfire and the evening was capped by a rather beautiful fireworks display. I was surprised by the sheer number of people there. It was short (though the partying of the young people went on for hours from what I could hear from my flat), but well worth going out in the cold to see. Global warming or not, it was still gloves and scarves weather. Hopefully, one of these days I’ll have some photos to post. I tried to take a shot of the silhouette of Linköping Cathedral, black against the setting sun’s glorious oranges and purples.

On the way back to the car, my Scottish colleague, her Swedish partner and I were discussing fireworks displays. Swedes seem to love them, trotting them out for New Year’s Eve, Valborg and special occasions. In America, we save them for the Fourth of July and trips to Disney (both Disneyland and Disney World have nightly displays). And I’m still torn when watching them—I love the color and light and display of power, but they still remind me of Fallujah and all the other battles and bombings where people get killed. There’s something frightening about fireworks, and I’m not the only one who thought so last night. In between booms we could hear terrified children wailing and howling dogs.

There’s something right about celebrating the Fourth with fireworks. That’s what independence meant for us—a war that cost over 2000 lives and thousands of injured soldiers. And we’re still rightly proud of those soldiers and what they accomplished. Those numbers don’t sound very high, do they? Especially in today’s terms. But there only about four million Americans back then, and at least some of them were actually loyal to the Crown.

But liberty is worth dying for, isn’t it? Freedom? I ask my Swedish students this question in American cultural studies class, and all answer “yes”. But then you can see my, and their, problem. There are some things worth fighting for and even worth dying for, but no one likes war, especially not Swedish students for whom war is an out-dated tool of foreign policy.

You can see why I avoid fireworks—they make me think too much. All I wanted to do was go out and see an old Swedish custom and I end up having a 24-hour moral battle with myself about war!

Happy Spring! Happy May!



  1. I have very happy memories of watching fireworks with you and your son in Geneva. Weren’t fireworks originally invented as festive displays, before the gunpowder was put to more nefarious uses?
    Happy May!

    Comment by Emily — May 1, 2007 @ 5:03 pm |Reply

  2. Yes, they were! The Chinese invented them and once one of my Taiwanese students wrote about how the Chinese weren’t ambitious–they invented fireworks, then Westerners found the *powerful* application for gunpowder. This was supposed to show how the Westerners were “better”. Weirded me out. I was thinking of you last night! Truly I was! I was thinking “Emily would love this.”

    Comment by maggiec — May 1, 2007 @ 6:20 pm |Reply

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