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FINNISH CULTURE NEWS FLASH / Vappu the 1st of May

Up until now it may have seemed to you like Finland is the country of silence, the Finns are a shy and quiet people and that culturally, the key words in festivities and celebrations are small scale, humble and quiet* Vappu * the First of May – changes all that for couple of days* So if you have the chance to experience the Finnish way of celebrating the First of May * do not let that opportunity to pass!

In the following, you will get some background information on Vappu, as well as some pointers regarding on the codes of conduct during Vappu celebrations*

Originally, Vappu is the Day of Finnish Labor * and that’s how it’s still titled in the official Finnish calendar. The day used to be characterized by marches organized by social democrats and other associations close to the workers and labourers cause, as well as by speeches, red flags and music. This kind of Vappu had its peak point in the first two decades of the 20th century and again in the 60′s and 70′s.

Nowadays, Vappu is the day of students more than anything else. The students have started to become the most visible part of the Vappu celebrations from the 60′s onwards, and the First of May is one of the most important dates in any student’s year. Not surprisingly, for some student unions, the Vappu festivities are a week-long event omnibus filled with new and old traditions, but even at the very least, it’s a 2-day festival starting on Vappu Eve on April 30th and lasting ’till April 1st.

The dress-code for a student during the Vappu Festivities are student overalls (the dirtier and the more filled with badges and other seemingly un-necessary gadgets, the more experienced party-animal the student inside the overalls is) and the white student cap ( which you get when you complete successfully the senior secondary school matriculation exam). All kind of carnival bric-a-brac and decorations such as balloons, serpentine, pom-poms and whistles form an essential part of a student’s equipment list. The point in this is to be seen as far as possible and to be as loud as possible!

On Vappu Eve, April 30th all major student life towns in Finland organize an event called “The Capping”. The student cap used to be a symbol of the beginning of the summer season in the old times (app. 100 years ago). Vappu was the first day when it was appropriate to wear summer outfits, including the cap. So nowadays the student unions organize a capping of a statue to declare the vappu and the summer season to be officially opened. After this, all the students are allowed to put the cap on. The festivities in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere collect 10 000s of students to witness the capping, speeches are held, and they are also televised. In Helsinki, they cap the statue of Havis Amanda (“Manta” among friends * a nude female statue). Usually by 6: 03 pm the cap of the statue is already missing*. The crowd is huge and making new friends is easy, because most likely you will get separated from your friends 2-3 times because of the crowdedness. The Vappu Eve after the capping is spent in various parties. If you want to go native, the street-wise phrase is to yell ” Hauskaa Vappua!” * it doesn’t matter really whether you know the person you’re yelling it to * this “Merry First of May” -greeting is usually followed by wild blow in the whistle.

The Vappu Day, the First of May begins by mass picnic in the outdoors. This is also a tradition with roots going back to the pre-1914 era and the official summer season opening* Dress warmly for picnicking * a bad weather is hardly ever a plausible excuse for a Finn to skip the Vappu-picnic. (Ask your tutor for more specific coordinates.)

And then a word about the traditional Finnish Vappu dishes. It’s “Tippaleipä” and doughnuts to satisfy your sweet tooth and then “sima” to flush them down. Finnish Doughnuts shouldn’t be confused with American doughnuts * the most visible difference is that ours are without icing, or they are rolled in sugar. Tippaleipä (May-Day Fritters) are also made of doughnut dough and deep-fried. You recognise a tippaleipä in your local supermarket bakery section by its appearance: it looks like a pastry gone terribly wrong, or as if the baker had tried to imitate a bird’s nest by pouring the dough in the frying oil by using a ketchup bottle. It’s often garnished with powdered sugar.

Sima (May-Day Mead) is the tradional May Day soft drink * traditionally home made, but nowadays also available in supermarkets, in case you would like to try. It’s light brown like beer (the manufacturing method is a bit similar), but the taste is very sweet with a distinct taste of lemon and raisins. But as far as the Vappu picnic is concerned, it’s has no regulations in terms of food & drinks: you will see both sparkling wine and hot chocolate, cocktail sausages and potato salad, smoked salmon and meatballs* anything really goes!

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