Vappu in Finland is the traditional worker’s day and welcoming spring celebration or so I have been told. What I actually saw on the eve of the first of May last year was a huge student (including former and future students) party in the city center. Everybody who was out there that night (and there were thousands) – young and old, Finns and foreigners, students and workers – seemed to only have one goal: getting drunk. And I don’t just mean drunk, I mean DRUNK! It looked like for one night there were no rules any more in the streets of downtown Tampere.
But let’s start from the beginning… where does the word Vappu come from?
Vappu is short for Valpuri which is a female name that originates from a German medieval saint, Walburg. Similarly, in other countries the night of the first of May is called Walpurgi’s Night but since Finns like it short when it is about names they just call it Vappu (I’m actually surprised that it’s not Vappi since they also like to add i’s to the end of the words).
Vappu party in the parks
I have heard people talk about Vappu weeks or even months before the actual date and I was wondering what is all this hype about. I also have been warned that there might be a few drunk people in the streets during the 30th of April and 1st of May. Drunk people in the streets are not so rare in Finland so I did not really get the point until we went out that night. Few drunk people had been a slight underestimation as it seemed that the whole city was having a huge party in the city center and the surrounding parks. I was sober when we arrived there and I had the strange feeling that I was the only one! Well, I changed that pretty fast.
Vappu for students
The students clearly seemed to play a special role in that night. There were hundreds of them, grouped according to the colors of their overalls. In Finland, students traditionally wear overalls for common events with the color depending on the subject of their studies at the university. The suits usually are decorated with various badges and souvenirs telling about the owner’s interests and political views. There are some rules and traditions connected to the permission to wear those overalls. For example, you have to collect a certain amount of freshman points which you get for the participation in social events and contests. Nowadays, these events mostly seem to be connected to heavy drinking. At least when I see students in their overalls in the city they usually carry plastic bags full of beer cans on the way to the next park or party.
In addition to the overall the students wear white graduation hats which they got for finishing high school. They keep those hats all their life and once a year on Vappu many people are wearing them. It was not unusual to also see seniors wearing their high school graduation caps. Well, for the new students they are still white but since you are not supposed to wash them the color of the hats of older and former students turned more into a yellowish-brown…
I learned that Vappu is one of the four biggest holidays in Finland together with Midsummer, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Eve. Indeed, it seemed like everybody was celebrating and the parties continued the next day (for some even without sleep) when it is common to have a sparkling wine or champagne picnic in the park. The students gathered just outside of the city center. Nicely deployed according to the colors of their overalls they marched through the streets into the central park resembling a carnival parade.
In Tampere, it is tradition that on the 1st of May the first-year students of the technical university are dipped by a crane into the water of the Tammerkoski, a channel of rapids passing through the city center. It was quite a spectacle! Hundreds of people gathered to watch how around 10 students at a time where lifted up in a metal basket by the crane and lowered into the water which must have been freezing cold considering that few weeks ago it still was in ice.
The dipping was interesting to watch but after the 10th or so load of students it got kind of boring so I strolled on to the nearby market where local foods and handicrafts were offered. What first caught my eye there were hundreds of colorful balloons flying in the air on top of the market trying to catch the kids’ attention.
There are also some traditional Vappu foods and drinks which usually are home-made ond sold on the market. For example, Sima, the typical ‘Vappu drink’, is a fermented, slightly alcoholic beverage containing lots of sugar, syrup, lemon, and raisins. Munkkis, the Finnish version of donuts, are very common on Vappu, too. If you want to know more about the Vappu drink and foods, you can find explanations and the recipes on the Big in Finland blog.
If you are planning a trip to Finland during spring I can totally recommend to do so for the Vappu weekend. It is the chance to experience a typical Finnish event with lots of parties and other social events, nice markets, good food and lots of fun in the streets. Just be aware of the weather! Even though it is called spring-coming-party spring might not fully be there yet. I have been told that it is not unusual to even get some snow on that day. But don’t worry, it will not stop the Finns from partying outside
Have you spent Vappu in Finland yet? Tell us about your experience and impressions below!