In Finland, there is an annual holiday called Vappu on May 1st. This day is a special one when people go out into the streets to have parties. While it is internationally recognized as May Day, a day for the working class, Vappu in Finland is also known as a commemorative day to celebrate the arrival of spring. In this article, I will explain in detail about Finland’s Vappu.
Vappu takes place every year on May 1st
May 1st is internationally known as May Day, and it is common for demonstrations and rallies to be held in many countries to demand improvements in workers’ rights. On the other hand, in Finland, May 1st is a holiday called Vappu.
While activities aimed at improving workers’ conditions are also held in Finnish cities on Vappu, the day is characterized more by people bringing food and drinks to celebrate the coming of spring. In the cold Nordic countries, the arrival of the spring season is a long-awaited and precious day. Therefore, on May 1st, Finnish citizens enjoy parties with food and drinks while basking in the warm spring sunshine in parks and along lakeshores. Some people even start their parties in the evening of April 30th and stay up all night to welcome the day. Traditionally, people of all ages, from young to old, participate in the festival wearing white hats they received at high school graduation.
There are various theories behind the origin of Vappu, but it is said to have evolved from the Catholic holiday of St. Walpurgis to a festival celebrating high school graduation among Finland’s upper class, eventually becoming its current form.
What is May Day?
May Day is a day when workers gather to demand improvements in their working environment. On this day, various activities for workers, such as demonstrations, strikes, and rallies, are held. May Day is an officially designated commemorative day by the United Nations and is a public holiday in more than 80 countries around the world.
The origin of May Day can be traced back to ancient Rome, where a festival called “May Festival” was held on May 1st every year to offer prayers and offerings to the goddess Maia, who presided over the arrival of spring and abundance.
Whether or not to celebrate May Day varies by country, with Western countries actively celebrating it due to strong individual rights consciousness, while May 1st is a regular weekday in Japan, and Denmark, another Nordic country, does not have May Day either.
The current May Day as a celebration for workers was triggered by a large-scale strike that took place in Chicago, USA, on May 1, 1886. At that time, workers demanding a change from 12-hour to 8-hour workdays staged a demonstration. Demands for 8-hour workdays spread to various places, eventually becoming internationally established as May Day.
Drinking the carbonated beverage Sima is a staple
In Finland, a traditional carbonated beverage called Sima is always consumed on Vappu. Sima is made by fermenting water, lemon, sugar, and dry yeast. Carbon dioxide is produced during fermentation, resulting in a refreshing drinking experience.
The history of Sima dates back to the 16th century when it was imported as a luxury liquor from Germany and Latvia. However, as sugar prices fell, it became popular among the working class and ordinary citizens. As a result, Sima became a drink for the working class and was consumed on Vappu.
Although Sima is an indispensable beverage for Vappu, it contains a small amount of alcohol due to the fermentation process. While the alcohol content is lower than that of the honey wine from which Sima originated, many parents avoid giving it to children and instead offer them non-alcoholic Sima.
Munkki, a pastry eaten during Vappu
Munkki, a deep-fried pastry, is a famous treat eaten alongside Sima during Vappu. It resembles a donut in appearance, but munkki is made by fermenting the dough with dry yeast beforehand and then deep-frying it in oil. As a result, compared to regular donuts, the dough has a fluffier texture, making it more like a cross between a donut and a deep-fried bread. Moreover, it is common to add the spice cardamom to munkki, giving it a different flavor than Japanese donuts.
I have introduced Vappu, the Finnish version of May Day, where people celebrate the arrival of spring and enjoy parties throughout the city. Delicious treats like munkki and Sima make an appearance on Vappu, and the streets of Finland are filled with excitement all day long. It is truly a unique Nordic custom to celebrate the spring season so grandly, especially in a region with harsh winters.