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.
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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.
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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.
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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:
- What’s It Like Celebrating Midsummer in Finland?
- Practical Guide to Finland’s Summer
- 50 Cultural Facts on Finland that Help You Understand Finns
- Finnish Greetings: How to Use Them and the One Word You’ll Need
- Special days and public holidays in Finland
I’m the founder of Her Finland. I love cultural tidbits, aha moments, Finnish folklore, and cinnamon buns. My newest interest is learning bird songs. Read more about me..
Tuesday 27th of April 2021
Hi Varpu, I read that the student’s 2 week celebration is named Wappu. I understood that Finnish does not have a w in their alphabet, only a v with used instead. Has something changed? My family name now is Wiita but I have been told it was Viita in Finnish.
Monday 10th of May 2021
Hi Jeff! Such a great question. Yes, the students' celebration is indeed called playfully Wappu. It's kind of like a tiny joke that one V is not enough as the partying can be really hard. The only Finnish word that comes to my mind naturally having a W in it is wc aka the restroom. And even this word comes from the actual word watercloset which is a loan word. Hope this helped! :)
Wednesday 22nd of April 2020
Thanks Varpu for another interesting post. It's so sad that. all over the world events like this are canceled this year.
I wonder if you could make some posts about Finnish mythology and folklore and how it survives in the hearts and minds of Finns today? (If it still does, that is). All the best and Stay well! David Holt
Wednesday 22nd of April 2020
Hei David, thank you so much for commenting. Awesome to hear that you're looking for a post like that because that's exactly what's cooking in my mind at the moment!
Tuesday 30th of April 2019
Hyvää vappua! Kiitos, Varpu. This was very interesting and fun to read about vappu. In my other comment I capitalized vappu. Why are holidays not capitalized in Finnish?
Wednesday 1st of May 2019
Susan, don't worry about the big/small letters at all! These are different in every language. The logic behind common and proper nouns is different in Finnish compared to English. In Finnish, almost everything is always written in small letters, for example, nationalities, months, days of the week and all holidays.
Monday 29th of April 2019
Varpu, I completed your free Finnish pronunciation course. It was very helpful. Thank you! I would like to continue learning with your more complete Finnish language course as soon as I am able to pay for it. I have wanted to learn Finnish for several years. Eight years ago our family became acquainted with our Finnish relatives here in the USA and in Finland through Facebook. My great grandparents came to America in the early 1900s, and most of my life, I knew very little about Finland or the family we have there. Some of our relatives in Finland know some English, but we usually have to rely on the translation given by Facebook. Many times the translation from Finnish to English is incomplete or not understandable. My younger brother has worked hard to learn Finnish and has made several trips to Finland to visit relatives. Thank you also for the interesting information you give in your posts about the culture, people, and places to visit. Someday I would love to visit Finland!
Wednesday 8th of May 2019
Thank you so much, Carol! I'm so happy to have you here. I'm so glad to hear that you found the course helpful!