Published on April 23rd, 2012 | by Chris Wotton0
Spray foam baptisms and toilet paper magazines – this is Vappu Festival
Forget maypole dancing – the Finns have an altogether merrier way of celebrating spring’s arrival. One of the most important events on Finland’s calendar, the Vappu festival is for many synonymous with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
What is Vappu?
The festival is celebrated in various guises across central and northern Europe as different takes on the pagan Walpurgis Night, which marks exactly six months from Halloween and in Finland sees carnival-style antics right across the country. Here, Vappu started out simply as a spring festival that happened to clash with the name day of the Bavarian saint Walburga. The tradition developed a pagan feel before students got their hands on it and made their own mark. Sure enough, it is still at its biggest and best in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, where things get going on 30th April and run through to 1st May.
What better focus for a festival like this, then, than student life? That’s the theme at Vappu, with just about anyone who’s anyone sporting the sailor-style white cap received on graduating from university – at 6pm, even the freshly washed down Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, gets to don one. Once her hat is firmly on, there are champagne toasts all round, balloons are released and the sound of streamers and whistles fills the air. The following day, the basin of the fountain statue is filled with spray foam for partygoers bathe in – this is where the new university intake get their so-called baptism to student life.
The tradition of students taking over Vappu, which was previously an upper-class feast, dates back to the nineteenth century. With pom-poms hanging from their hats, Finns down sima, a homemade alcoholic mead or honey wine, and eat freshly cooked funnel cakes. Other popular foods include the traditional Tippaleipa, a sugar-dusted, deep-fried pastry speciality, doughnuts and sausage with potato salad. Apy, a student-produced gimmick magazine, is also distributed, typically printed in true-to-form wacky style on toilet rolls, bed sheets, tin cans and even milk cartons.
On the streets, in clubs or bars or at individual parties, the celebrations go on into the early hours of the morning of Vappu day, 1st May. Traditionally friends tuck into a picnic of good food and sparkling wine in the Kaivopuisto park, near Helsinki’s cluster of foreign embassies. But not to be outdone, some go to elaborate lengths to make theirs the best, with pavilions, white tablecloths, silver candelabras, classical music and extravagant food. Stalls selling food and knick-knacks also set up shop in the main market square, and the botanical gardens open up for a wander. The picnic kicks off early in the morning, meaning last night’s partygoers can carry on in earnest – who needs sleep when you’re having this much fun?
A Gloriously Anarchic Atmosphere
This gloriously anarchic atmosphere isn’t to everyone’s taste, and traditional workers’ marchers help retain the political significance to the Mayday celebrations – with a little chastising of students ‘who should be working’ thrown in for good measure. Everyone takes part in Vappu in one way or another, though – political parties and church groups are all there marching and making speeches.
Regardless, for Finns, Vappu marks a goodbye to the snowy and icy wintry months and a golden hello to spending as much time as possible outdoors, soaking up the sunshine. Good weather provides the perfect backdrop to the party, but the celebrations go ahead as planned even if a little snow hangs around to join in. And English needn’t be a problem – Finns speak a dizzying array of languages so, far from being locked out of conversation, the worst thing to happen is that you will be put to shame.
Whoever you are, these two days of forget-all-your-problems madness in Helsinki and beyond make it the perfect time for everyone to become a student and relive loud, foamy fun and hardcore partying. And if it ends up not being your scene, collect 20 used champagne bottles, take them for recycling and you’ll get a free cinema ticket, where you can hide away from the revelry instead, spoilsport!