There are a couple of ways you can experience a Finnish carnival. The biggest party happens when Finland wins the ice-hockey world championship. Unfortunately, the next time for that is quite difficult to foretell.
Luckily, there’s an annual holiday called vappu which is almost as good as the gold medal celebration. Be in Finland on the last day of April and First of May to see this two-day spectacle.
This year all May Day gatherings are for sure canceled due to the unfortunate situation and the unusual times we’re living in. But, you have plenty of time to prepare yourself for the partying that will happen in 2021. I bet it will be massive. So, let’s take a moment to learn about this Finnish holiday.
In a nutshell, May Day is a big national holiday to celebrate work in Finland.
On the Eve of May Day it seems every Finn is out partying, especially students with funny boilersuits (more about them later). On May Day, people flock to the streets, enjoy brunch at a restaurant or have a picnic. It’s a day to spend with friends.
Näytä tämä julkaisu Instagramissa.
You cannot talk about vappu without talking about the weather. May Day is infamous for its bad weather.
This Finnish carnival is definitely an outdoor party and Finns naturally always wish for sunny warm weather. That happens once every ten year. Then the partying gets totally crazy and well, not pretty. Usually May Day is cold and rainy – maybe for a reason.
Seven May Day Traditions in Finland
What should you expect if you’re enjoying vappu in Finland? Here are seven Finnish May Day traditions.
#1 The vappu donut. Okay, this is the only mandatory thing that I have for you if you are in Finland during vappu: Eat a real vappu donut. A fresh vappu donut is insanely delicious. So, head to a cafe or market square and make sure to ask if they have made the donuts there today. If there’s any chances, try to get invited to a Finnish vappu party. They will most likely serve fresh vappu donuts there.
#2 True vappu specialties. Two other May Day specialties are tippaleipä (a special funnel cake only eaten on May Day festivities) and sima (non-alcoholic sweet sparkling brew made of water, yeast, lemon, and raisins). Many make these at home, but you can buy them in a grocery store too.
#3 The vappu menu. At vappu Eve (vappuaatto), the menu is super straightforward. Most Finns buy potato salad and frankfurters. What can I say, the traditional focus is on the drinks and donuts.
#4 Brunch away. On May Day, it’s popular to brunch at a restaurant. The table booking needs to be done in advance because pretty much any place will be full.
#5 The funny-looking black & white caps. It’s traditional to wear your graduation hat (ylioppilashattu, in Finnish) during vappu. Back in the day, this was a bit of a status symbol. Nowadays graduating from high school is so regular that this hat thing is just a fun vappu tradition. The dirtier the hat is, the better. It means you have really enjoyed your vappus. In Finland, you can even buy a new vintage-looking cap if you loose your cap when partying hard.
#6 Vappu decorations includes colorful serpentine and balloons. Costume parties are popular for both kids and adults. I don’t know a Finnish school or kindergarten that doesn’t have a costume party during vappu.
#7 Vappumarssi aka Worker’s May Day March. Back in the day, Worker’s May Day March was a big thing in Finland but nowadays it doesn’t have such a big role in the vappu celebrations.
May Day and Students in Finland
Finnish students party hard during vappu, especially the engineering students. Contrary to the normal calendar, their vappu is a two-week party and hence called wappu. So the student May Day celebrations start already in the middle of April and culminate on May Day!
Students have many events and traditions for wappu. For example, there’s an official vappu magazine sold on the streets of big technical university cities, such as Helsinki and Tampere. The sellers wear colorful overalls and a black & white hat so it’s easy to spot them if you are in town.
May Day in Finnish
In general, this two-day carnival is called vappu in Finnish. The last day of April is called vappuaatto (the Eve of vappu) and First May is called vappupäivä.
Typical May Day wishes include:
- Hyvää vappua! (Good vappu!)
- Hauskaa vappua! (Fun vappu!)
- Iloista vappua! (Merry vappu!)
Note that vappu (and all Finnish holidays) are always written in small letters.
May Day Celebrations in Helsinki
Want to know how it looks during vappu in Helsinki? Check out this awesome video!
What else would you like to know about vappu in Finland? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more information about Finnish culture? Check out some of my other posts:
Warm wishes from Finland,
After Finnish Culture Compass, you’ll…
...feel connected with the Finnish culture (even if you aren’t in Finland)
...be confident with the Finnish communication style (even when it’s filled with silence)
...be prepared to meet and get to know Finns