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May Day – the craziest celebration in Finland!

by Hanna
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The biggest celebration that crowds the streets in Finland and especially in its capital Helsinki is called May Day, Labor Day or International Workers’ Day. In Finnish we simply call it “Vappu”. This is the craziest celebration when all the Finns are social – and drunk. It’s when Finns go out for a picnic with bottles of sparkling wine or champagne and wear their graduation cap. Yes, you read correctly, on that day we wear our graduation caps!

In this article I’ll tell you why May Day is the funniest and craziest celebration in Finland!

Finnish graduation cap, May Day

Wearing my graduation cap on May Day

What are we celebrating on May Day in Finland?

May Day is the celebration for several different things. In Finland we celebrate the spring, the high school graduates and the workers. It is an important festival for the university students as well! They have a bunch of traditions related to May Day. One of the most visible tradition is to make a small May Day magazine that technical university students sell on the streets around May Day. It’s also tradition that some students are trying to break the record of how long can you celebrate May Day which means that they start the partying already weeks before.

May Day is always on the first day of May and it is a public holiday in Finland. It used to be the celebration for the people living in the cities but nowadays everyone celebrates May Day. I don’t think everyone knows what they are actually celebrating on May Day but it’s a great opportunity to have fun. You can always celebrate the spring!

Ullanlinnanmäki, Helsinki, May Day in Finland

Ullanlinnanmäki in Helsinki gets crowded already in the morning of May Day

Traditional food and drinks on May Day

Our traditional May Day drink is called “sima”. It’s a Finnish fermented, fizzling low-alcoholic drink made from water, sugar,  brown sugar, lemon and yeast. It tastes a bit like lemonade but contains a low percentage of alcohol. Many Finns like to make their own sima but you can also buy it from the stores. The taste is of course very different between the homemade sima and the one in the stores. My mother always says that sima is an drink easy to spoil when you try to do it at home. If you fail putting the right amount of yeast it may not start the fermentation process and it will taste really bad. However, sima is a must-have drink on May Day!

Sima, Finland

Homemade sima, yum yum!

The traditional dessert we eat on May Day is called “tippaleipä” which is a funnel cake in English. It’s sweet and crunchy and made so that the batter is poured through a funnel to a pan of hot oil. I think funnel cake really divides people here in Finland, some absolutely love it and some hate it. I think it’s sweet and pretty good but I don’t need to have it. 😀

Picnic time! I absolutely love strawberries on a picnic.

What is an absolute must when celebrating May Day is champagne or sparkling wine! On May Day the tradition here is to go on a picnic and you have enjoy a few bottles of sparkling wine during the picnic. The pop of the cork is the sign that outdoor season has officially begun.

On May Day many Finns also like to eat sausages and potato salad on their picnic. Otherwise everyone has their own habits of what to bring to. As long as you have enough good food to survive the whole day on the picnic you are fine!

May Day – the most fun party day in Finland!

Before May Day

Finns usually start partying already on the evening before May Day so on the last day of April. There is no tradition how you should celebrate it. As long as you have some sparkling wine and sima to drink you are good! For university students the main traditions start already on the last day of April. In Helsinki the university students go to the center of Helsinki and give a graduation cap to a statue. Most of the students from the capital region participate this tradition and many Finns like to go and participate this event too. That said, the center of Helsinki is pretty crowded already on May Day’s eve.

Before May Day shops are full of colorful themed balloons for kids. The shops also sell paper streamer and other fun stuff. On May Day it’s important to be colorful and celebrate the day with balloons. There are also outdoor stalls selling candy and different masks as well as balloons. As a kid, the most fun part was to visit these stalls and get some candy and balloons for May Day.

May Day balloons in Helsinki

May Day balloons in Helsinki.

On May Day

The most important and the craziest day is May Day itself. In Helsinki, the tradition is to go to Ullanlinnanmäki which is a grass field area near the center by the sea and have a picnic there. I can tell you that that place is packed with people! You have to go there really early to reserve a place for you and your group of people. I mean like 9 am early! There people are having their own picnic with their own group of friends right next to one another. Everyone is having their graduation caps, and their student jumpsuits if they are studying in the university. It’s a great sight!

Helsinki is packed with people during May Day. All the public transportation is full of people and you can expect that you need to wait for the next tram and bus because you couldn’t fit in to the previous one. Everyone is in a happy mood and most likely a bit tipsy! That’s why May Day is the day when Finns are the most social. If you spend a day at Ullanlinnanmäki, expect a Finn to start talking with you latest on the toilet queue.

May Day picnic in Finland

I bet the sight is funny and it seems a bit crazy for tourists to be in Finland on that day. If it’s good weather everyone is outside celebrating the day with their caps that look like sailor hats. But it is the day when everyone is on good mood and it’s truly a happy festival that you celebrate with your friends.

I’ve given you the idea that it is a crazy festival which it is! As long as it’s not raining, no matter how cold it is, every Finn will go to a picnic. We may have 10 layers of clothing but we will go for a picnic! The only day of the year when you can see Finns being over the top social is May Day. Most people will be a bit tipsy and in a good mood, maybe even singing some songs. The craziness and fun part comes also from that everyone from a small child to a grandma will be out there together.

If you get the chance of being in Finland on May Day, I guarantee you’ll have fun!

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