Vappu – the spring fest in Finland

If you are in Finland right now you will notice that everyone is excited, and some are thrilled out of their minds. The reason is that Vappu is coming. And what is Vappu? It is the spring fest of Finland, the Labour Day and the May Day.

Vappu
I remember how, during my first Vappu, nobody could explain to me very well what it was all about. It took investigation and thorough questioning, but the answers to it were the same as I said above. But that wasn’t all.

Vappu in Finland

In Vappu you can meet two distinctive groups of people.

The first group are the students. They wear their colorful overalls and their graduation caps and they go out to celebrate and indulge for a couple of days. I like that.

Each faculty has different overall colors. For instance, in Joensuu, the Science Park people – with whom I proudly tagged along – were dressed in purple. Others were yellow, green, etc., making it easy to discover fellow people. The overalls have brands on them, mostly local, from companies who subsidize their costs to the students.

The overall from a Finnish university
An overall from one of the Universities of North Karelia
The second group are the Finnish people who don’t belong to any faculty, either because they are through with university, or because they never went. Nonetheless, they wear their graduation caps as well: mostly white and with a little black.

It seems the graduation from high school is a pretty important moment of every Finn’s life. They get the white cap that signals them as having finished high school and they treasure it all their life, wearing it on Vappu every year. I have discussed with Finns why they are so proud of having passed high school – especially in a country with a great school system – but I still don’t get it. Roses are another symbol of graduation day, where the Finns wear their best clothes.

Some Finnish grandpas wearing the white cap Two seniors wearing their high school graduation caps.

Vappu traditions

The university students are the ones mostly carrying out the Vappu traditions. The first tradition is to wet a representative statue of the city – for instance, Havis Amanda in Helsinki – with champagne and put a graduation cap on it.

In Joensuu the students have a giant graduation cap – 1 meter in diameter – and they march to the university buildings with the help of a marching band and put the cap onto one of the statues in front of the Carelia building. Pretty cool.

The giant cap
The giant cap being carried
Vappu also marks the real beginning of spring in Finland: Around the first of May there is no snow anymore (or, if there is, there are only little heaps of it left over in the shade), and the days are so long that they are inviting the Finns to party. During my first Vappu, we had terrific weather and we always honored every chance of having some drink on a terrace, an excellent moment to make some Finnish friends.

Beer on a table
A drink in the sun

What to eat and drink during Vappu

If you’re looking for a Vappu drink, try simä. If you prefer the food side, Vappu’s favorite is the munkki. Munkkis are Finnish donuts, and simä is a fermented drink that Finns make at home for this day. The munkkis I tried – homemade by the mother of a friend – were delicious, so I can definitely recommend them.

People, as I mentioned above, spend Vappu with infused happiness – yep, alcohol – outdoors, and having picnics in parks. Some Vappu parties can be found as well, and parties at night are common and almost a stop you can’t – and shouldn’t – miss. Student parties or club parties, you’ll have a great Vappu.

Vappu party
This was my first Vappu party

Party like is Vappu Making friends during Vappu

Enjoy your day. People are much more friendly than usual, and – who knows – maybe a Vappu romance can start (another great day for it will be Midsummer, but we will talk about that another day): Vappu, alcohol, picnic, outdoors, springtime. A mix that can’t and won’t fail.

Have you spend Vappu in Finland? What are your highlights for this day?

I've been writing about Finland for 8 years. In these articles I am trying to transmit my passion for Finland, its marvelous nature and cities, its people and the culture of the country. Thanks for reading!