It’s time for one of Finland’s most loved holidays: Vappu!
Vappu, the Finnish version of Walpurgis Night and May Day, is a huge carnival-style festival that welcomes the coming of spring and warmer weather. Finns take to the streets and parks on the evening of April 30th to celebrate, drink, eat and socialize. For foreign visitors, it’s something of an unexpected sight to see hundreds (even thousands) of Finns kicking back in the park with alcohol and picnics, surrounded by colorful balloons and wearing what appear to be sailor caps.
Vappu has evolved quite a bit throughout history. With roots in the pagan May Day, it was affected by the Christian Saint Walpurga starting in 870, became an upper-class springtime celebration in the 1700s, and then became associated with Labor Day in the 1800s. These days Vappu is known as a celebration for students and workers, but festival-goers of all ages take part in the fun.
So how does one celebrate Vappu? You do what no festival would be complete without: you drink! The traditional beverage for Vappu is sima (mead), but any type of beverage can be enjoyed. In addition to the obligatory drinking, Finns celebrate by donning their white graduation caps. Even Finnish statues wear their caps! In Helsinki, it’s a tradition to “cap” Havis Amanda, a statue in the city center, and many other cities have similar traditions. We hear Turku’s statue capping also involves a giant toothbrush.
On May 1st, the May Day celebrations continue with picnics in the park (and perhaps a little more drinking) and typical carnival fare such as balloons, streamers, pranks, and songs.
Vappu is one of Finland’s biggest holidays and has been for years. Let’s take a look at how Finns celebrated it in the past, with a few old school photos and a video of Vappu’s past.