The 1st of May is one of the most important days on the Finnish calendar, and this year we were lucky enough to spend it in Helsinki. May Day, known as Vappu, is the day that the city truly comes to life after winter, to celebrate the arrival of spring in style.
We started our celebrations by going to a ‘Pre-Vappu’ student party in town on the Saturday night. Then on Sunday, the day before Vappu, we joined the hordes of people standing around the Havis Amanda statue to watch her be crowned with the Finnish student cap. All high school graduates in Finland own one of these white caps, and Helsinki was a sea of them for two days. As the Havis Amanda received hers from a group of champagne-spraying students dangling from a crane, all the watching Finns waved theirs in the air and cheered. Loud music played from a stage as we all watched, danced and drank in the rain.
The Vappu parties, most of which seemed to be for students, went on across the city through the night. Students in Helsinki wear overalls in a colour specific to their course whenever they are at a student party or event. They cover them with badges, which they earn from the different events they attend. If you see students with legs or pockets in different colours to the rest of their overalls, it (apparently) means that they have a boyfriend/girlfriend on that course. This all means that on a huge festival day like Vappu, Helsinki is full of bright colours.
On the morning of Vappu, the people of Helsinki head to their parks for brunch, traditionally with sparkling wine. We went to Kaisaniemi Park first, where groups of people of every age had put up gazebos and spread homecooked food across endless tables. We heard some of them singing Finnish songs, and others played their own music. But the real party was in Kaivopuisto, another park at the southern end of the city, which has sea views and an observatory. Here, students from various societies had put up tents with speakers and were eating and drinking for the whole day. There were rows of food tents, selling typical Finnish food such as a fried vendace (a small fish that you eat whole, similar to whitebait.) Amongst the tightly packed groups of picnicking students and families, the atmosphere was relaxed and fun, and it was clear that some of the old-timers had been doing the same thing every year since they were young. It’s easy to see why; Vappu is the day Helsinki is determined to have as much fun as possible.