May-Day / Vappu In Finland – Celebration of Spring, Education And The Working Class

May day vappu in finland celebration spring education

Vappu (or May-Day, 1st of May, Labor Day, etc.) is definitely one of my favorite holidays. It’s not such a big deal anywhere else, but in Finland we take it bloody seriously!

Vappu is all about celebrating Spring but also the Working Class and education, which suits perfectly because Finland ranks as a top country in the world when it comes to education. What I did not know is that May Day as the Working Class’s celebration, began in the USA in the 1800’s. Huge general strikes were arranged around the US on 1st of May in 1886 where workers demanded, for example, an 8-hour working day among other basic rights. At the same time in Europe Working Classes started to demand rights as well.

In Finland Vappu is mainly a huge Student Party; you can see University students wearing their colourful overalls everywhere for a whole week before the actual Day. I can’t describe how much I miss those May Days when I was a Uni. student, they were simply amazing; you always met a lot of new people and simply had so much fun that nothing can top it. It’s a phenomena that you really need to experience to understand.

High School students in Finland get a white cap when they graduate and it really is a proud moment to put that cap on at 6PM on the last day of April, year after year. It would be even sweeter if I could be in Turku and standing among the huge crowd gathered on the Art Museum hill listening to the Student Union’s speeches, which end with the shout:

“Graduates! Cap ON!”

May day vappu celebration spring education outfit

May day vappu Finland celebration spring education

Despite the fact that I have lived abroad for altogether almost 10 years there are only 2 Vappu’s when I haven’t been in Finland. This year is the 3rd. But at least I am equipped with my white cap, so it almost feels authentic. AND I got to spend this Vappu with a lot of Finnish people so it really was a legit one.

I didn’t have any plans but last week I heard one of the Team Leaders on our floor at the office talking to his team about a barbecue party he was arranging at his place on Monday. I took a note of that and on Monday started to unravel my plan: first I asked one of the people working in that particular team if she thought it might be OK for me to turn up at the party as well. There was really no point asking, there were so many people going anyway that one addition wouldn’t make much of a difference.

But I asked anyway. And then I also thought it might be nice to notify the Team Leader himself that he didn’t need to wonder how the hell I had ended up there. Then at lunch break I scuttled to the store to buy some bubbly and prepared myself mentally for another end-of-April mayhem, also known as Vappu.

The actual 1st of May is usually a picnic day in Finland; people prepare and pack up a brunch and gather in parks all over the country to eat and enjoy the day in good company. This year I really didn’t mind missing the picnic, though. It was raining cats and dogs and there was simply no chance of getting me out of my house to even walk to a friend’s place for a brunch.

I can’t deny, this Vappu lacked a lot of the authentic atmosphere; partly because in Estonia May Day is not significant at all. But also because of the lack of white caps and my friends in Finland. I hadn’t realized what a big part of Vappu they really were to me. Maybe next year I will try to redeem the situation and go to Finland for an authentic Vappu experience.