Vappu is described as “the closest thing you’ll find to Carnival in this part of the world. Being originally celebrated as the international Labour Day, in Finland Vappu has evolved more into a massive one-week binge of students, and it reaches its peak on the Vappu Eve, the 30th April. Different kind of traditions take place that week (e.g. Vappu pranks, sitz parties, sports, races, fresher students thrown into the freezing river/sea, Vappu magazines, markets etc)”. (http://www.esnuniturku.fi/event/vappu-esn-1)
What to wear:
Obviously you should wear your decorated overalls (this goes without saying). You can also wear funny, bright and crazy extras but be aware that they will probably get lost at some point so they should not be anything too expensive or precious.
If you are have graduated from a Finnish high school you can wear a special white and black hat. It looks like something a fisherman on the North Sea would wear and I’m sure there’s a story about that somewhere.
What to do:
There’s a great mixture of fun things to do. Races, outdoor games, rowing contests, and parades. There’s also a party every night somewhere and on Saturday in Oulu there was a rave which took me back to nineties. I was too young to go to raves when they were the fash, but we still wore rave inspired clothes… sweety dummies, bright neons, crop tops and those polyester galaxy printed handkerchief tops that we all bought from Greenmarket Square before it became touristy or Space Station. I had a bit of a weird moment in the middle of the rave thinking, most of the people around me are not old enough to know rave from the first time.
There’s also a few funny traditions that you should watch and have a bit of a laugh at… such as shouting loudly in a subway at 3:33:33 am on the morning of 1 May, special bonfires, speeches, capping statues and breakfasts. My favorite however was the first years of the technical guilds (engineering and architecture) getting “baptised” in the local river. What this means is that while everyone watching is nice and warmly dressed, eating doughnuts and yummy food, the first years have to slide into the river down a short but steep metal slide into brown river. They have to get their heads completely wet otherwise the crowds BLEHs at them and they have to dunk themselves under the water. Some people dress up and if “over the shoulders mankini” means anything to you, you know what we were facing. This year the was a light layer of ice on the river. Lucky them.
Why do they do this? Once they have done it they get to wear a black cord on their hat with a knot in it. Not enough motivation for you? Well, that’s the Finnish way for you…
Other than the drunken debauchery, Vappu is also a great time for families and kids. Practically every kid has a foil balloon, families have picnics (if the weather allows), there markets that feel like they are just sweet markets (heaven for this sweet toothed girl) and there is generally warmer weather so everyone is out and about. On 1 May you should eat an ice cream, which I did, even though it was about +2’C with an icy wind that cut through to the marrow in my bones. A little voice inside said to me, if you need to wear gloves still, it’s probably too cold for ice cream and I told the little voice, “But it’s Vappu!” and the little voice said, “ok then, but just this once”. And we enjoyed watching people pass by us while we sat in the city square eating our surprisingly delicious ice creams and blowing bubbles from our left over Vappu bubble collections.