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.
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.
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
- Okay, so 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 you are going to a Finnish vappu party, they will most likely serve fresh vappu donuts there.
- At vappu Eve (vappuaatto), the menu is super straightforward. Most Finns buy potato salad and frankfurters. The traditional focus is on the drinks and donuts!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vappu decoration 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.
- Worker’s May Day March was a big thing earlier 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 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: