What is Vappu?
Vappu is a holiday that’s celebrated in Finland on May 1st.
Vappu is a mix of many old festivities. Originally, in pre-Christian times, it was a spring celebration honoring gods of fertility. At a later stage, it transformed to Hela fest, when people living in villages would go outside and make a lot of noise to scare away evil spirits to save their crops.
Later on, in Christian Europe May 1st became the fest for catholic Saint Walpurga. This is how Finnish name “Vappu” originated.
In 19th century students appropriated this holiday. At that time, students wear special white caps from May to September, and May 1st was the first day when they were allowed to put them on.
In 1900s a new ritual originated – students wash the statue of Havis Amanda in Helsinki and crown her with a white student cap on Vappu eve, April 30th. This ritual exists in all Finnish cities with some variations.
Nowadays, everyone who graduated from high school or university in Finland has this cap, and after Amanda’s coronation, people salute her.
Students also publish and sell a special Vappu magazine or cards featuring mostly inappropriate jokes.
In 1978 May 1st became the official holiday – “Day of Finnish Work”. It was a great opportunity for political activists (mostly, left wing) to make a speech or to promote their party.
So, this is Vappu’s history in a nutshell. Pagan and Christian, slightly political, easy going and joyful, with so many purposes and meanings, this carnival is a unique local festivity.
How people celebrate Vappu nowadays?
As I said before, crowning of statute takes place on Vappu’s eve. After this “official” part, student all over Finland party hard all night long. On Vappu day people go outside with family and friends, have picnics in the parks and students continuing partying.
What’s interesting to me is that students wear overalls – it’s like a uniform, and each department or field of study has their own color. Patches on overalls usually can be obtained by performing certain tasks, like fundraising, for example.
Decorations that you can spot on the streets include air balloons, paper streamers and other carnival-like pieces.
Traditional food and drinks
What to eat and drink on Vappu day? First of all, tippaleipä – a pastry made of liquid dough fried in oil and sprinkled with sugar powder. It looks like a huge spaghetti roll, and the taste is very hard to describe. It’s sort of neutral: not sweet at all, but not salty. Slightly sour, I’d say. It’s not bad, but I can’t say I’m a big fan.
Now, let’s move to my favorites 😉 Another Vappu pastry is donitsi (or munkki). Donitsi have a whole in the middle and they are covered with sugar. I secretly hope that donitsi are healthier than their American and German relatives, but this is only my theory, and I’m afraid it will not survive any scientific scrutiny…Oh well 😉
There is also a special drink that is served on Vappu Day – “sima”. It’s made from honey and yeast, and there are two versions of this drink, with and without alcohol. Sima is a great drink! It’s refreshing, not super sweet and reminds me the USSR style lemonade that I drank a lot when I was a kid. It also reminds me medovukha – a Russian old-school drink made of honey, but medovukha is more sweet and has way more alcohol in it.
For traditional picnic, in addition to sima, donitsi and tippaleipä, people also take with them potato salad, grilled sausages, herring, and sparkling wine. A lot of sparkling wine 😉
Hope it was interesting for you! Hyvää Vappua everyone!