What do Walpurgis Night and May Day have in common? While May Day, internationally also known as Labor Day or Workers’ Day, has a political context that takes a lot of people out into the streets, Walpurgis Night has a religious one that is connected to pagan traditions. As it so happens that Walpurgis Night is celebrated on the eve of April 30th and May Day on May 1st, the Finns have essentially merged these two into a single celebration and call it Vappu Day.
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But what makes Vappu Day so special for Finland? Besides Midsummer’s Day and Christmas, it is not only one of the most important holidays of the country but arguably also the biggest party of the year. First celebrated in 1890, it has developed into a huge festival to celebrate the arrival of spring and also the end of the semester for students. Streets are filled with joyful people and decorated with lots of colorful balloons and other decorations, turning Vappu Day into a carnival-like event.
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Traditions usually begin in Helsinki, the capital of the country. Vappu Day’s commencement is at exactly 6pm on April 30th with thousands of current students and alumni meeting on the Kauppatori (Market) Square, gathering around a bronze statue of a nude female that was erected by Ville Vallgren in 1909. She is called Havis Amanda, or simply Havis, and is considered the “Daughter of the Baltic Sea.” They clean her and dress her up with an oversized ylioppilaslakki, Finland’s white students caps, on her head. Upon finishing this, everyone gets out their own traditional white caps that they received upon graduation.
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The commencement of Vappu Day is, of course, followed by big festivals around the city streets and in market places. But also the student unions and other groups like to host Vappu Day events, bringing locals and international students together at these parties. Like in any other country, many enjoy excessive alcohol, and it is sparkling wine that is particularly typical to drink here.
Celebrations will then continue on the next day. While the weather is usually still cool in Finland on May 1st, thousands of students and graduates as well as others will again gather in the streets and lead a procession through Helsinki and other cities. It all ends in meeting at parks across the city, having picnics outside with family and friends.
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While picnics can include all types of foods, many Finns will chose traditional foods and beverages on Vappu Day. Tippaleipä, a sweet Finnish fritter and munkki, a type of doughnut, are two snacks that are typically served on Mayday. It is usually accompanied by sima, a homemade low-alcohol mead that can certainly take on higher percentages depending on who makes it. It is a good thing to do in Finland as the Finns do but you won’t stand out if you drink beer and other alcoholic beverages either.
What can you do as an international visitor to prepare for Vappu Day? While you probably don’t have the typical white hat, it is very common to also wear crazy colors, dye your hair, wear wigs, or anything alike. Plan to spend the day with family, friends, or other travelers and go out and join the locals in the streets. If you want, prepare some of the typical Mayday dishes, experiencing the full Finnish Vappu Day experience. Most people in Helsinki will probably meet at Ullanlinna and Kaivopuisto park in Helsinki, which are great starting points to enjoy and mingle with the locals. But whatever you plan to do on Vappu Day in Finland, don’t forget to check the weather forecast and to bring your long johns. Vappu Day will be on a Tuesday this year. Please keep in mind that opening hours can be changed for this day so best to plan ahead.
Have a happy Vappu you all!
Go on a Day Trip from Helsinki:
Finnish Sauna in the Nature
Bathe in Finnish sauna, take a dip into the pure lake and grill BBQ.
Price: 99€ per person
Hiking & Canoeing in National Park
Hike in the wilderness, paddle on the lake and eat local BBQ.
Price: 139€ per person
Sailing in Turku Archipelago
Sail between the islets and bathe in the Finnish sauna.
Price: 229€ per person
Visit Bengtskär Lighthouse
Greet the biggest, outmost lighthouse in the Nordics.
Price: 299€ per person