May Day or Vappu

One of the most important festivals of the year, the first day of May is a popular celebration in Scandinavia. This originally a worker’s holiday has turned into a massive celebratory festival for current and graduated high school students particularly in Finland, where it is better known as Vappu.

The name Vappu derives from St. Walpurgis, whose feast day is observed on the 1st of May. The eve of St. Walpurgis’ day has long been considered a night when witches and evil spirits come out. Vappu offers something for everybody: the international workers’ movement, European celebrations of spring, the traditional springtime revelry of Scandinavian students, the modern street carnival and the Finnish enthusiasm for drinking.

More traditional events happening are marches and demonstrations taking place across the country to celebrate the workers’ spirit. This is particularly the time for political parties and union leaders to give speeches to the faithful listeners. For others, this day is spent outdoors, Vappu after all marks the beginning of summer for the Scandinavians (even if it may be snowing on this very day). Friends and families gather around for a picnic, including some traditional delicacies, such as Tippaleipä (sweet may day biscuit) and Sima (mead).

I remember growing up with my mother always making sima, really a kind of sparkly lemonade, and the deep-fried crullers “tippaleipä” – yum! Newly greened birch branches were gathered as symbols of spring. Hauskaa Vappua, Happy May Day!

Addendum: What a coincidence! Amy at Ever So Humble writes about Walpurgisnacht.
Vappu originates from this German word and custom, though of course it has modified over time to another version in Finland. We have been through these beautiful Harz Mountains (my husband actually comes from nearby), and they certainly are unusually mystic in feeling, and the towns are wonderful! Lots of interesting reading and pictures here. Happy Walpurgisnacht and thanks, Amy!

April 30, 2004 in Culture, Finland, Estonia & Finno-Ugric by Marja-Leena