The traditional Mayday celebrations around Vappu start on day before, on April 30th and is something everyone should experience! It’s probably the biggest street party you’ll see, and it’s the closest Finland comes to a carnival. Originating from the workers’ Labour Day celebrations, Vappu nowadays is mainly considered for the students – or former students – but really for everyone. The traditions around Finland are largely similar, but some regional oddities come into play as well (for example in the city of Oulu people go into a tunnel at 3.33 am to shout or sing). I celebrated my first Finnish Vappu in 2011 in Helsinki, and the following two years in Turku, which was certainly a memorable event, to say the least. It’s a huge cultural event and everyone should experience it once!
*2020 is different, because of you-know-what. Many restaurants and cafés are offering take-away Vappu picnic bags or full-on menus, click here to get to the 2020 list below!
Vappu Timeline and Events
*please note that in 2020 any larger gathering is prohibited. Everyone be safe and celebrate Vappu from your home this year 🙂
April 30th: The party starts usually in a park or an area, where during the late afternoon the ceremonial statue crowning will be held. In Helsinki, this is Havis Amanda at Esplanadi park. A selected group of students will give the statue a good wash, and then “crown” her with a student hat – which is also the moment when everyone puts on their hat at the same time as well.
May 1st: the party continues in the city’s biggest park – being Kaivopuisto in Helsinki. This day is essentially to celebrate your hangover with friends and a picnic. Many people also opt for one of the many brunch offers around the cities!
What you need to know
The white hat: every student in Finland (and other Nordic countries, for that matter) receives the white hat when they graduate from high school. The student cap with a pompom is what the “teekkari” wear (science and engineering people) and receiving that is a really big deal. The cap is usually worn by everyone during the Vappu celebrations, and I love especially seeing older people proudly showing off theirs!
Overalls: Not only during Vappu but during Vappu specifically, you’ll see people wearing coveralls in all different colours, with patches sewn on to them. These are students, and the colour of the overall represents their faculty, so you can roughly tell their study field by that. The patches are given out at student parties (usually by the student unions), so the more patches you see, the more of a party animal that person is.
Sparkling wine: the ultimate essential for any Vappu celebration. Countless bottles of sparkling wine are consumed over these two days, and it’s advised to make your Alko purchases well in advance.
Munkki: my personal favourite of the Vappu times, are the sugar-covered Vappu donuts. They are just so delicious and if it were for me, it could always be Munkki season. You can get them year-round in some places, but when they are widely available, is only during the Vappu times. So good!
Tippaleipä: is a funnel cake that’s really only available for the Mayday times. You can find them in grocery stores when they’re in season!
Sima: is the non- (or low-)alcoholic drink option during Vappu – it’s a fermented kind of sparkly lemonade. Many people make their own, but you can find it around stores as well.
What to wear: regardless of your attire of hat and/or overall, make sure you’re dressed for any weather. Vappu is notoriously known for being absolutely unpredictable. Some years ago, we decided to cancel Vappu entirely because it was suddenly snowing. Last year, we were sitting in the park in the sun in a T-Shirt. It can really be anything, so be flexible.
What to bring: if there’s a time for serpentines and fun balloons, it’s Vappu! If you want to get a balloon, make sure you don’t get it on-site at the parks as they will charge you ridiculous amounts for it, but most grocery stores have Vappu decor and balloons available in the days leading up to the party.
VAPPU IN HELSINKI 2020
Things are different this year – and I think it’s the first time ever that due to the Corona-crisis, the Vappu celebration won’t take place. Restaurants around the city are moving to offer Vappukassit, a picnic bag with all the Vappu essentials, for your balcony or wherever. Click on each link for more information and remember to order them soon! Most take the bookings until April 28th, but make sure to check.
Vappu Lockdown Food festival: “Lockdown Festival is a food, drinks, culture and arts festival that makes feeling, digging, sharing and interacting together possible, even though we are physically apart.” Check out the program, thoughts behind it and everything else here.