We have arrived! The first few days have been absolutely manic but productive. We got a bit of a break in between, when Finland celebrated Vappu, 1st May. Vappu is celebrated on the 30th April and 1st May, but only the 1st is a national holiday. All government offices, banks and even some restaurants and shops are closed. Keep this in mind if you happen to be in Finland on the 1st of May.
Vappu is officially a worker’s day or labour day, but it appears that Vappu has also been historically linked to the celebration of spring. This year unfortunately it felt more like a celebration of the arrival of an ice age, but we Finns don’t tend to let the weather ruin our plans. I was surprised to find people having their picnics in pouring rain and gusty winds. We weren’t that brave. We left our picnic baskets at home and tried to find a restaurant, which we did, after 6 tries. If you are wanting to eat in a restaurant, make sure to book in advance. It is very very difficult to get a table, especially if the weather is not the best.
We have about 10-15 days a year when you’ll be able to see a Finnish flag on a pole next to most public and private buildings. Some of these days are mandatory and some advisory, but Vappu is a mandatory one so it is particularly beautiful sight. You’ll be able to see this all over the country, but Etelaesplanadi had a strong flag game this year.
Vappu reminds me of a central European carnival, with balloons, colourful decorations, fancy dress and street vendors. You’ll be able to see this all over the city but don’t miss Esplanaadin puisto and walk towards the harbour and you’ll be able to buy all the most weird and wonderful things. There are also people handing out giveaways. If you are in a need of a pen… This is your golden ticket.
FOOD AND DRINK
On the 1st of May, people get together to have picnics in the many parks in Helsinki, Ullanlinnanmaki is particularly popular. Traditionally people would have marinated herring on rye bread, cocktail sausages with an assortment of salads, such as potato and beetroot salads. Nowdays, the range of food is a bit more broad, so it is not unusual to find Italian antipasti, Spanish tapas and even sushi in people’s picnic baskets. Just pack what ever you like and get going. Sima is a homemade mead, made from sugar, water, lemon, yeast and a few raisins. When the raisins rise to the top of the bottle, you know your Sima is ready. Sima is unalcoholic drink, but of course if you leave it to ferment long enough it will turn into alcohol. Sima is one of those things, that you either love or hate. There is no in between. I love it, but my husband strongly disagrees. Some like their Sima with raisins, some without.
Champagne and Prosecco are also a very important part of Vappu picnic, although when it comes to alcohol the Finns don’t discriminate. You can see families raising their glasses and cheering ‘Hyvaa Vappua’ (Happy Vappu). Young children are sometimes given non- alcoholic sparkling wine (cordial rather) to be able to join in. So no need to call child services if you see children with a champagne flutes on their hand. 1st May is more a family celebration, where as on the 30th April most parties start after dark.
There are also two traditional sweet pastries to try. They are both made from doughnut dough. They are called Munkki and Tippaleipa. Munkki is a doughnut coated in sugar and Tippaleipa is rather odd looking doughnut dusted with icing sugar. Both are worth trying, but my favourite is definitely Munkki. Many Finns make their own Munkki at home and the whole family gets involved and it’s all good fun.
People decorate their homes with balloons and colourful serpentine. Elaborate flower arrangements in bright colours are also on high demand. I remember how much fun I had as a child blowing up balloons and mum hanging them on almost every window of the house. Then me and my sister decorated our bed frames with serpentine. I remember thinking how beautiful it was, but I’m quite sure it quite the opposite. One other thing children is particular love is silly string… Not sure how great that is for the environment but oh well… You can buy helium balloons at every corner of the city. I couldn’t resist buying one for myself while we were filming. The balloons are ridiculously expensive, but you can try to haggle… The competition between vendors is fierce so you might just get lucky or just wait until later on on the day and they’ll be half price.
The first thing you’ll notice is that most people are wearing a hat of some sort. These are ‘student caps’ that we get when we graduate. Even the Havis Amanda statue (pictured below) gets a student hat for the day. There are different caps depending on what your level of education is and what degree you have completed. These are worn by people of all ages, not just the ones who have recently graduated, however student overalls are worn only by students who are currently enrolled in higher education. These come in all the colours of the rainbow again depending on the faculty and establishment. The students earn badges which are attached to the overalls by taking part in various activities. As for kids, many of them wear a fancy dress and some schools have fancy dress parties.
Vappu is one of my favourite holidays and this was my first Vappu in Finland since 2008. Next year I hope to feature Vappu celebrations from another Finnish town to show you how varied the traditions can be. Next week however, I’ll write about rye bread and give you few examples on how to make a 5 star rye bread sandwich. So many of you have asked me to write about Finnish food and recipes and, I promise, there are plenty of food related topics coming up. A short video on Vappu will be available on our YouTube channel in the near future so make sure to follow us on Instagram and you’ll know when the video is published.
Have a great week! Speak to you soon!