This year it really sneaked up on me: Vappu and May Day. It is one of the biggest festivals in Finland along with Christmas and Midsummer, so it’s hard to believe that I could not feel it coming. When I still lived in Finland, the preparations started several weeks, even a month before. April is always a busy time at work and at school, but everybody still takes the time to party Vappu. The holiday has a bit of the same curse though as New Years Eve. Its such a big event, that people have pressure on where to go and how to celebrate. It should always be awesome – thus often it is not. I guess this really proves I am becoming Swedish, as here, it is just not that big of a deal.
Today I sat down to write about Vappu, and realized how little I know about the origins. What are we actually celebrating and why. It was a bit of a surprise when Wikipedia opened up this whole long page about witches (wtf!!). Apparently Vappu, called Walburgis Night in english is named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga (c. 710–777/9) who was canonized (declared a saint) on 1 May ca. 870 by Pope Adrian II. In German folklore, the day is called Witches’ Night” and is believed to be the night of a witches’ meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Bonfires are light in some countries (also Sweden) as a tradition to fend them off. I tried to read up if these two strings of history had anything to do with each other,but did not find a clue (I ran out of patience).
Anyway, the folklore has very little to do with the Finnish tradition. The celebration, which begins on the evening of 30 April and continues to 1 May, typically centres on copious consumption of sima, sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. Student traditions, and pranks are one of the main characteristics of Vappu. Many high-school alumni (university-preparatory high school) wear the black and white student cap and many higher education students wear student overalls. The culinary tradition is to drink sima, a home-made low-alcohol mead, along with freshly cooked Tippaleipä (funnel cakes).
On May 1st, people in Helsinki gather around in the parks of the city for picnics. It doesn’t matter if it rains or snows, people are still there, pretending that it is summer. You have to admire the dedication. People bring along tables, grills, even sofas to the park to make it comfortable. The picnic-basket usually contains cocktail sausages and potato salad. The choice of drink is always sparkling wine. I kind of miss it and I kind of don’t. The over consumption of alcohol that day might be a bit of a turn-off for me these days (I just cannot take a hangover any more – I’m old). But of course during my time as a student was a blast.
Here is Sweden, the day is calm. Celebrations center in Student cities like Uppsala and Lund, and the normal family life is not much disturbed. We have an extra holiday though, and will enjoy that with some guests coming for dinner and some nice bottles of wine. For those in Finland, I wish a crazy Vappu! May the weather Gods favor you this year.