Vappu -Experience Authentic Finnish Culture

Annual bubble shower for the mermaid statue, Havis Amanda.

Everyone was talking about Vappu even weeks before May Day. There were big numbers in Otaniemi campus, counting down to Vappu. In the beginning, I was really confused about why people were so excited about May 1st, International Labour Day. In my home country Taiwan, it’s the day that labor rights are under examination, sometimes there is a labour protest against the government, not a day for cheerful celebration. Also, university students in Taiwan have nothing to do with Labour Day, simply enjoy a day off without special activities.

However, In Finland, Vappu is a huge thing for university students. Why is that? After my Finnish classmates explained the tradition, I finally realised it’s beyond Labour Day, but a celebration of the end of winter and the arrival of spring. There’s a big climate difference between Taiwan and Finland. The spring starts in the beginning of February in Taiwan.

Making munkki for the first time. Then enjoy munkki with sima, a sweet sparkling drink. A classic
combination for Vappu.

The weekend before Vappu, my Finnish flatmates taught me how to make munkki, a donut people eat for Vappu. It contains a special ingredient, cardamom, which makes munkki taste like spring.

Rooftop jazz band performance in Otaniemi campus on Vappu Eve.

On Vappu Eve, celebration had already begun. In the early morning, there were already lots of students gathering together with overalls in all kinds of color in Otaniemi campus. Aalto student union AYY organized different events to celebrate Vappu, including rooftop jazz band, Vappu Eve party in Dipoli and so on. In the afternoon, I went to Market Square with friends. We wanted to see the hat ceremony for the first time. At 5 pm, students with long brushes were lifted up in the air next to the mermaid statue, Havis Amanda, to give her an annual bubble shower. Towards 6 pm, the crowd was counting down to the moment, the white student cap was placed on the head of the statue. Then all the Finns put on their student caps regardless of their ages. I saw a mother with a boy wearing her white cap on the bus, a grandpa wearing his on the street. I feel that Finns are really proud and precious about their student caps. My flatmate told me that one should never wash it, so some of them have champagne or beer stain forever.

Student cap on the mermaid statue, Havis Amanda.

While studying the international master’s program of Creative Sustainability in Aalto, my Finnish classmates are always willing to share stories behind the Finnish tradition with me, I get to enjoy the authentic Finnish culture. After living in Finland for more than 8 months, I believe Vappu is the most unique Finnish tradition I’ve experienced so far.

It is very rare to feel crowded in Helsinki. Lots of people gathered in Market Square.

There are a lot more to expect in May. Aalto Festival is coming soon, it showcases the talents in Aalto University. Please check the website and come join us.

Hsiao-Pei Liao

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