Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vappu Is Crazy!

Vappu is a celebration to welcome spring. Traditional in many northern European countries, it's called May Day in many places and is also called Walpurgis Night. In Finland, it's celebrated with wild parties and parades, especially in the bigger cities. There used to be more emphasis on speeches by workers, politicians and clergy. Now, it seems to be more about letting loose and having fun.

A religious parade.

One of the day's street performers. He and danced, played the pan flute and sold CD's.

It is normal on this day for high school graduates to wear their graduation caps and in Tampere, Vappu also includes the "baptism" of new university students in the city's rapids (see video and bonus photos, below). The city's main square is full of balloon salespeople walking through a festive market full of food and carnival game stalls and colorful, cheap plastic toys appreciated by young children.

These students are waiting in line to be dunked into the cold water of Tampere's rapids. In the background, you can see some of the many spectators on the opposite bank.

During the night, there is a massive amount of drinking and people, especially university students, go crazy on the streets. Vappu provides a distinct break from the normal stereotype of Finns being reserved. Bryan woke at 4am and couldn't go to sleep and so went for a walk. He found scores of people sleeping or sitting with friends on the grass along the rapids, surrounded by heaps of broken and crushed bottles and cans of alcohol. I am glad that we've had months to form other opinions of Tampere - if we were tourists and only here over the Vappu weekend, the aftermath of the crazy night of Vappu would leave us thinking of it as a place full of drunken, littering people (which it's not).

A student who had probably been out all night.
Luckily for me, by the time I took a walk at 9am, workers had cleared up most of the broken bottles and smashed cans already. The city was very prepared for the event.

Our cousins, the Kuusijärvis, invited us to a Vappu party at their home. Similar to the Memomiral Day picnics common in the U.S., these parties are a chance to grill out and have a casual meal with family or friends. The party gave Analeise and me the chance to see the Kuusijärvis and Välisalos and also to meet Minni, a new baby bunny - hello to Spring!

Wearing fun wigs is pretty common on Vappu. Using temporary hair dye is even something kids do for this day. Sara and Elsa look great with pink hair!


If you like wild parties and are coming to Finland, put Vappu on your calendar and make sure to go to Helsinki or Tampere's downtown during the night. If you want peace and quiet, avoid the cities or just come at another time!

Bonus Photos:

The water was very cold. This dunking was accompanied by some screaming.

Many Finnish university students wear overalls covered with patches from events they've attended or things they've done. Students can guess at eachother's majors, as each group wears a different color. The patches are sewn on after events or experiences. Many student groups wear the uniforms for parties, but they are also worn when volunteering as a group to let the community know that the students are doing good work.

Lovers' locks on one of Tampere's bridges.

The girl in front is running from her friends, who were spraying her with silly string.

One of the fun style differences between where we live in Wisconsin and Tampere is that many women and some men in Tampere dye their hair wild colors. One or two of these gals appear to be wearing Vappu wigs, but it would not be uncommon to see these colors on non-festival days.

Graduates of all ages wear their caps on Vappu.

Easter decorations, brightening the Vappu party at the Kuusijärvi's. The decorated branches in the upper-right hand side of the photo were made by the Kuusijärvi girls for going door-to-door the weekend before Easter. The tradition is that children dress as Easter witches and go to their neighbors' homes, exchanging a decorated branch (essentially a magic wand) for candy. You need to make a branch for each house you plan on visiting. Not everyone in Finland participates in this tradition, but it is fairly wide-spread and is greatly anticipated by many Finnish kids.

Saara, Silja and Maikki with Minni the bunny.

The Välisalos arriving for the Vappu party.

Balloon and donuts (these are called munki in Finnish) are synonymous with Vappu. Check out the cake covered in berries and whip cream cream - yum!

Analeise and Minni.


This is a Wikipedia article about Vappu:

This brief article discusses the use of uniforms by university students in Finland and Sweden:

Here is a short video showing the dunking of some Tampere's new university students:

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