There are a couple of ways you can experience a Finnish carnival. The biggest party happens when Finland wins the ice-hockey world championship.
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 the First of May to see this two-day spectacle.
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. Naturally, Finns always hope for sunny warm weather. That happens once every ten years. Then the partying gets totally crazy and, well, not pretty. Usually, May Day is cold and rainy – maybe for a reason.
Table of Contents
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 are 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 during 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.
Make a batch of mouth-watering donuts and refreshing sima at home with my Finland Baking Magic eCookbook. With hassle-free recipes and conversions, you can make these vappu specialty recipes and so many other holiday treats for your family!
#3 The vappu menu. At vappu Eve (vappuaatto), the menu is super straightforward. At most home parties potato salad and frankfurters are served. 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 or enjoy a picnic at a park. In Helsinki, Kaivopuisto park is filled with families and friends enjoying their vappu picnic. If you are in Helsinki, I warmly recommend visiting Kaivopuisto on May Day. If you want to eat in a restaurant, remember to book your table early.
#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 lose your cap when partying hard.
#6 Vappu decorations include colorful serpentine and balloons. Costume parties are popular for both kids and adults. Most Finnish schools and kindergartens throw a costume party on 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.
Get to know the finns
Join my free cultural class and avoid the culture shock when you are in Finland. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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: