Snow or shine, Finland kicks off its summer season each year with Vappu. Fortunately for us this year, it was all shine!
Vappu, which derived from Walpurgis night and also coincides with May Day, has become one of Finland’s favorite and most popular holidays next to Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer. In more recent times, it has become appropriated by university students and high school grad continuing on into higher education.
Traditions on this holiday are observed across the country: the wearing of a white graduation cap, consuming sima (basically home-made mead) and a festival in the streets on April 30 followed by a picnic on May 1.
In Helsinki, however, there are even more traditional activities. University engineering students stage a “capping” ceremony on one of the city’s most beloved statues, Havis Amanda. In a ceremony that, I am sure, has humble roots, today is a lavish ceremony with crane-hoisted students and hundreds of thousands of people cramming the streets of the city. It all culminates with the capping at 6pm sharp and hundreds of champagne corks flying shortly thereafter.
This year, our friend Cory was in town to enjoy the spectacle. He was taking a northern-European tour and scheduled his landing dates in Helsinki in order to be here for it! We had a great time showing him around the city and celebrating -literally- all night with him.
On Vappu Eve, we started our day with brunch at what is a new favorite brunching brewery in town before taking him on a general walking tour of the city- and stopping at the best seaside cafes for a Finnish Lonkero, of course.
At 5pm, we took our places in front of the Havis Amanda before the crowds became to thick. There, we met up with our other group of friends, coming from their own brunch. After the ceremony, we continued to enjoy the festival in the streets, hoping from square to bar to street food. It wasn’t until the sun was beginning to light the sky that we fell headlong into our beds (ok, so the sun rises at, like, 430 here…)
But, don’t forget, that was only Vappu Eve.
The next morning, true Finns head straight from their all night party to a park, just to do it all again. Kaivopuisto is one of the largest and main parks in Helsinki, as it skirts the coast of the Baltic Sea. It becomes a packed picnic and party scene for Vappu, with a range of the most humble to the most elaborate picnic spreads. Many loyalists set up in the same spot, year after year. You will see white-capped Finns of every age camped out, some with formally laid tables, some with camp stoves and tents, all with empty bottles of bubbly wine between them.
After a feast of pancakes (ok and some “Hair of the Dog” on the side…) we met up with friends in the park to picnic and take in the sun and atmosphere. Jimmy, Cory, and I then head off to Suomenlinna, Helsinki’s sea fortress, to enjoy the rest of the sunny day without the crowds.
We took the short ferry ride over, the boys climbed the walls, I dropped my Ray Bans into a frog-populated pond (with teamwork, they were recovered!) and we walked through dark tunnels in the fortress hills. I would have to say that the only complaint we had was that we couldn’t find any ice cream.
Now that is the best kind of day!
Cory left the following afternoon by ferry to Estonia and Jimmy and I had a very slow week in preparation for our trip last weekend. This time of year is all go, go, go! so be sure to check in with us and see what we are up to.