Saturday, May 5, 2012

May Day (Vappu)!

May first (called Vappu in Finland) is one of the biggest holidays in Finland. The excitement in the air for a week before Vappu was palpable.

Last week, my Facebook feed had more than a few articles about public urination, excessive drinking and reasons why to avoid the city parks where Vappu is celebrated. I knew that our favorite park, Kaivopuisto (the park by the sea where we went sledding in the winter), would be filled with picnickers celebrating Vappu and that it could get crazy and I am NOT a fan of big crowds. Part of me thought, "how bad could it get?" and the other part of me feared it would be similar to the drunken party that was Halloween at my Alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Madison (must...not...drink...kamikazes...ever...again...) .

One of the first things I noticed the week before Vappu were the balloon vendors. And while my children begged for an enormous Angry Birds balloon, at 20 Euros ($27) a pop--pun intended--we had to forgo this Finnish tradition.


We had plans to picnic with Finnish friends at Kaivopuisto. And I have to say, while there were A LOT of people,

Kaivopuisto vappu

it was really quite tame. Everybody finds their own little piece of rock or grass and sets up their picnic.

kaivopuisto vappu 2

vappusters look over kaivo

It is customary to drink sparkling wine (or Champagne if budget allows!)  And I love that kids Joey's age run around collecting the wine bottles to turn in for a few extra Euros! 

sparkling wine

I always find it interesting to see what other cultures prepare for a picnic. Here, salmon seems to be quite a popular choice.  We also tried Finnish potato salad and "tippaleipa" a Finnish funnel cake.  These two foods in addition to hot dogs (no buns please) are very common Vappu foods.   We brought the ever-popular Finnish salsa and guacamole!

finnish picnic food

I'm sure at this point you're wondering..."what's with all the white hats?"

Laura and Marti 2

These are the hats Finns receive when they graduate from high school (lukio).   While May Day is generally a day to celebrate workers in many countries all over the world, here in Finland, it has become more of a student celebration. 
High schools are not the only institutions represented at also see a lot of people wearing these jumpers:

University jumpers

The jumpers represent different universities and departments within the university and the patches all over the jumpers are from different clubs and contests (i.e. sledding, drinking...etc.). Joey covets the jumper and the hat--he says he's not leaving Finland and that he will graduate from high school here. Any Finn out there who wants a permanent house guest for the next 6 years? Of course, then there's university.... ; )

We had a fantastic day.  The weather was beautiful, the company engaging...

and then we went home to play some good old fashioned American running bases! 


  1. I'd say that the Vappu picnic is from the fancier end of picnic foods, not the standard :) The white hat and the jumper you have in the picture are actually technology student's ones. The hat with the tassle hanging on the side is a hat that the technology student's get after their first year in university and it replaces the previous white cap they've had.

    Some of the boys collecting bottles collect them for extra income for the family. It's quite normal to get at least 80-100 euros per kid if you work a full Vappu day during the picnic.

    There is also a strong working class tradition, some parades going on in Hakaniemi in Helsinki and all over Tampere.

  2. Balloons are so expensive in Helsinki and especially if you buy it from the street! We paid 5 euros for that black Angry birds-balloon and all the small ones were only 3 euros. All big department stores (Prisma, Citymarket, Tarjoustalo...) sell those balloons and prices are soooo much cheaper.

  3. First white hats telling the world that the wearer had finished his secondary education appeared 1810. The current form was established 1870's. Till 1950's (those days people who got the hat generally all went to university) the hat was worn during university summer holidays from vappu till September. Now it gets an outing on May the 1st.

    The evening before is the wilder end of the party. Many younger picnic goers never made it to bed and if one did one is expected to be back on ones feet for the picnic. Loosing a hat is bad form too.

    Is vappuviuhka (stick with paper streamers in the end) still on the go? My mum never stretched to balloons either but we had a boxload of vappuviuhka that came out on 1st May.

  4. I'm so glad you got to take part in the Vappu festivities and that is was not too crazy. Vappu can really be a fun family outing.

  5. What is the food in that looks like it's on a plastic dish? Seems like salsa and guacamole from text but looks like eggs and dill. Curious. Love learning about Finnish culture :)

    1. Hi Stephanie, that was my (poor) attempt at humor. We Americans brought guacamole, but the photo is actually of eggs and dill--a more common Finnish dish!

      Thanks for commenting--this blog is super old. It's been 6 years since we lived in Finland! Still such a beautiful culture!

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