Starting from the last day of April and throughout the 1st of May, Finnish citizens and residents celebrate one of the most important national festivities of the year. Vappu in Finland is not only about workers’ rights as the 1st of May is in many other countries, such as Italy, for instance. Here in Finland nowadays, it is above all a celebration for students, but let’s find out more.
The origin of Vappu
Vappu traces back to the Catholic celebrations of Walpurgis Night. Originally, it was celebrated only by upper-class families, and it symbolized the arrival of Spring. But already in the 1870s, it became a popular student celebration.
Nowadays, as said, it represents one of the most important events in Finland and celebrations are quite important and a cornerstone in Finnish traditions. As mentioned in the beginning, Vappu is celebrated from its eve, on the 30th of April, called in Finnish Vappuaatto, literally Vappu’s eve, to the 1st of May, Vappupäivä, the day of Vappu.
Vappu in Finland is about students
On Vappu, workers’ rights are celebrated and speeches and marches are held in the cities. Although workers have their share of importance on this day, it is increasingly common that the main attention is all focused on students. This is because this celebration also represents the end of the school year. It seems that this tradition comes from Sweden. University students prepare for Vappu with celebrations throughout the week prior to the 1st of May and the two days of Vappu are the year’s biggest celebrations at universities.
Particularly important is the celebration on Vappu’s eve in Finland as everyone waits for 6 pm when a group of students, different each year based on University and internal University groups, places the high school graduation hat, in Finnish Ylioppilaslakki, on the statue of Havis Amanda, after washing her. This is a very important gesture, after which each person, present in the square and elsewhere, is allowed to wear their own hat.
Vappu in Finland: ylioppilaslakki
As said, on Vappu each graduate wears their hat after Havis Amanda has her own. This tradition belongs to Helsinki as the statue is located in Kauppatori since 1908, but it was sculptured two years earlier. For more information, you can visit the official website of Helsinki.
Back in the 50s and 60s, when graduating from high school was not very common, showing the hat was a way to show off one’s own capabilities and success in education. For this reason, students who graduated used to wear the hat, not only to celebrate Vappu but also for the entire summer. This tradition continued throughout the following decades, even though nowadays it’s not extremely common to find people wearing the hat after Vappu celebrations.
What to eat on Vappu in Finland
As with each celebration, also Vappu has its own food and drink traditions. On the drink side, Finnish consume sima during Vappu. Sima is a fermented low-level alcoholic drink, made with the fermentation of a solution made mainly of sugar, yeast, and water.
On the food side, to accompany Sima, Vappu in Finland is the perfect moment to consume tippäleipä and munkki. Tippäleipä, literally droplet bread, is a funnel cake eaten with powdered sugar on top, while munkki is a Finnish donut. To celebrate Vappu in Finland, the donut is generally fried with a hole in the middle and powdered sugar on top. No one forbids you from eating other types of donuts that are very common in Finland throughout the year. For example, extremely famous are the Berliinimunkki and the, more contemporary variant, Omar munkki (see pic below, along with a pic of the funnel cake).
Another important aspect of Vappu is having a picnic on the 1st of May. The biggest picnic celebration is held in Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki where thousands of people gather to eat and celebrate Vappu in Finland.
As said, Vappu in Finland is a celebration that has extreme importance for workers but also for students and that symbolizes the end of high school. It is the most important festive day after Easter.
How is the first of May celebrated in your country? Do you only focus on workers’ rights? Do you have any special events?