Vappu – May Day in Finland

Photo credit: kahvikisu on Visualhunt / CC BY

About a month after Palm Sunday and the Finnish custom of Virvonta/Virpominen (Act of refreshment or wish), we find ourselves on the eve of May Day (Vapunaattona).

What is Vappu?

Vappu is a spring celebration that has Pagan roots but has since evolved into a Finnish countrywide carnival.

It originated from a celebration called Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night) or Saint Walpurga’s feast first held in the year 870 from the 30th of April to the 1st of May. German Christians praised Saint Walpurga for fighting disease and witchcraft.

In Finland, as of the end of the 19th century, the previously traditional feast for only the upper-class became one of the four most significant and highly anticipated events for all. Particularly for students who tend to start things a little bit early, by a week, taking to wearing their student haalarit (overalls) or ylioppilaslakkit (student caps awarded to those finishing university preparatory school), coloring their hair, blowing horns and drinking skumppa (sparkling wine).

How is Vappu celebrated?

People of all ages enjoy ilmapalloja (balloons), serpentiinejä (serpentine streamers or party streamers), party poppers, silly/aerosol string, Sima (a fruity, mead-like beverage (alcohol-free for the children of course)), munkkeja (donuts), and tippaleipä (funnel cake). Also, joining the march to celebrate the labor movement, as International Worker’s Day is incorporated into the festivities.

Picnics in the park on the 1st of May are customary, whether simple or extravagant. You might find some students camping there from the night before to continue their festivities in the morning. Student organizations officially reserve these areas.
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Remote Vappu

In 2020, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were held online with a variety of live streams, and virtual reality experiences as the Finnish government extended the ban on festivals past the end of July. Remote Vappu will replace the social gatherings this year as many of the parks were closed to enforce social distancing.

If you are interested to find out what happened instead, go ahead and google etävappu and you will surely find some of the unique ways people participated in the festivities and stayed entertained! If crafting with the family sounds fun then you should follow the Vimma Art and Activity Centre for Youth on Instagram. Otherwise, a whole array of fun ideas and events can be found here.


If you would like to learn more Finnish, we offer private Finnish language lessons to help you do just that!


Your Guide To Vappu | Finland Today
Finland’s police could close parks to ensure a physically-distant May Day | YLE