Hyvää Vappua!


For me, the 1st of May is forever connected with the “commies” era in former Czechoslovakia. I was persuaded, that the celebration of work is common only in the countries with the sentiment for building a socialistic utopia. Therefore I became surprised to find out that the celebration of the 1st of May, or Vappu, is an important part of Finnish society too. In Finland, it is actually a quite funny tradition.

The 1st of May is the official day of Vappu, but celebrations start already on the 30th of April. During the last 2 years has been everything prohibited because of the Covid-19 restrictions. Similarly to my home country, Vappu is the celebration of work, but also students and the arrival of the spring. But let’s not exaggerate! Outside temperature is at the moment just around +6 °C and snow is still one of the options to come.

A little bit of history at the beginning. In the past, Vappu was accompanied by firing the fires. Old Finns used to burn the white wool to drive out evil spirits. Old Finns had celebrated the holiday by dancing and drinking mead. The tradition of burning Vappu’s fires persisted only in some areas where predominantly lives the Swedish-speaking population. Otherwise, the fires burn during the summer solstice, Juhannus.

To celebrate the spring, a celebration of work was gradually added (the countries of Central Europe were also a great inspiration) and the tradition of spending this day outdoor came from Sweden. Young men, usually students, went from house to house singing songs celebrating the arrival of spring. People went to eat and drink in nature, which was supposed to give them strength and health for the next year. In this way, all three topics that are celebrated during Vappu were gradually mixed – the arrival of spring, Labor Day as well as the celebration of studentship.

Traditionally, sima (mead) is drunk on this day. Sparkling wine or champagne also has its place. The family usually has a picnic somewhere in the park and the menu must not miss the so-called tippaleipä, which is a sweet crunchy pastry. Just for the sake of interest, I would like to add that in Finland many cakes are prepared and eaten only on specific days. But about that, I might write some other time.

People who have completed their university studies put on their typical white caps, the so-called teekkarilakki. They run with this hat, often in carnival clothes, around town or in processions. If you are guessing that alcohol plays a role during this holiday, you are not far from the truth. During the 1st of May, students have a holiday, so on April 30th, they can enjoy themselves. Each city has its own traditions.

In Helsinki, university students come to the statue of Havis Amanda near the harbour, put a graduation cap on Amanda’s head and often decorate her in other ways. They pour foam into the fountain and jump or bathe in bubbles.

On May 1st, something like an open-air festival begins, where students have various performances or concerts. Vappu is a much quieter holiday for everyone else. Children usually get balloons, which are available in every store the week before Vappu. Vappu is also the day when the cottage season is officially opened for those who own a cottage.

These holidays are funny. Since my memory, as a 6-year-old waving the flag of the USSR with my dad during the 1st of May parade in Prievidza, I have been having fun by watching people jumping naked into a fountain full of bubbles in temperatures just above zero.

Well, so many countries, so many customs 🙂

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