The Embassy of Sweden did something on Friday night that it hadn't done for about four years: invited members of the local Scandinavian community, and friends, inside its high fences in Yarralumla and lit a bonfire in the grounds to celebrate Walpurgis Eve.
Always held on April 30, Walpurgis Eve sees Swedes celebrate the start of spring in the northern hemisphere by lighting bonfires and singing traditional songs. Winter is over, a new season beckons.
In Yarralumla, sparks from the fire rose high on a still autumn night, the gumtrees silhouetted in the moonlight. Sweden must have felt at once close and far away on this traditional night, being marked in the national capital of Australia, half a world away from the homeland.
The Walpurgis Eve festivities at the embassy in Canberra didn't happen last year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and it had been overlooked for a few years before then as well.
Relatively new ambassador, Henrik Cederin, ably aided by the Scandinavian Australia Association, happily reinstated the tradition on Friday night, and hopes that it continues now each year.
"We are once again being able to open up and welcome Swedes, Scandinavians to the embassy," he said.
"For various reasons, we haven't done this for a few years so we are also coming back to an old tradition, an old tradition in Canberra too."
Mr Cederin, a tall, rangy man who joined the Swedish ministry for foreign affairs 30 years ago, began his appointment in Australia in September, 2019, after four years as ambassador to Zambia.
He and his wife Alexandra - and their dachshund Max - were settling into diplomatic life in Canberra just a few months before the region's devastating summer of bushfires hit, and then the global coronavirus pandemic changed everything.
"I had six months of normal activity, and then covid," he said.
Walpurgis Eve is a mix of traditional pagan celebration of spring and Christian reverence of an eighth-century nun Saint Walpurga who, among other things, battled witchcraft. (visitsweden.com, meanwhile, reveals that Scandinavian practicality by saying Walpurgis Eve is also "a festive way of getting rid of excess gardening odds and ends" in the traditional bonfire.)
Swedes back home usually gather in parks and together at private homes to celebrate Walpurgis Eve, and it is a big party in many university towns.
While events were cancelled last year due to coronavirus, they were still not being encouraged this year.
Sweden is still battling coronavirus spread and public health authorities in the country this week said restrictions such as restaurants closing at 8.30pm and limits on numbers of people in shops, hoped to be wound back, would instead continue, European news service local.com reported.
Swedish health authorities were also discouraging gatherings for Walpurgis Eve.
Sweden has been held up as both an exemplar and a pariah for how it has handled the pandemic, refusing to enforce lockdowns or masks. Depending on markers used, Sweden has either had one of highest rates of covid deaths per head in Europe or a relatively understated level of deaths above normal rates. "Recommendations" have given way to laws on such things as capacity restrictions indoors as compliance wanes and Sweden changes tack. The world still watches and waits to see the outcomes.
Henrik and Alexandra Cederin, meanwhile, are returning to Sweden this week to see their 20-year-old son for the first time in almost a year. Walpurgis Eve might have been a return to normality at the embassy in Canberra, the homeland still has a way to go.
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