May Day is internationally known as a “Workers Day”. In 1889 “May Day” was chosen as a workers celebration day in the Congress of Paris. On May Day, even today, many strikes and Demonstrations were organised by workers. In the United States 01 May was the day when working contracts were renewed, “moving day”, and this automatically caused restlessness among the workers. “May Day” is traditionally a day when political parties and union leaders address “workers”, at various central locations. In Finland “May Day” became an official flag- raising day in 1978, and was named “The Day of Finnish Work”.
The Finnish name for May Day, “Vappu”, originates from Catholic St. Walpurgis, who’s commemoration day was celebrated on the 1st of May. In Central-Europe, this day has been celebrated as a festival of spring since medieval times. The first May Day festivities in Finland started in parsonages and upper-class families in the 1700′s. At that time people celebrated the day by going horse riding enjoying the greenery of spring, and held “Mead” parties at home together with friends and family. The Finnish May Day celebration, as it is nowadays, was started by secondary school graduates in the 1800′s. Even back then the festival was a time of rejoicing and very “Damp” students. Student caps might have been worn from 1st of May until the end of September, but nowadays students and past students wear it on the eve of May Day and on the actual day.
In Finland May Day celebrations begin on May Day Eve. In Helsinki the statue “Havis Amanda”, which lies near to the Helsinki market square, receives her white student’s cap at six o’clock, at the same time as people put their caps on. This has been a tradition since 1932. Similar ceremonies take place in cities all around Finland, with different statues being “capped”. The celebrations have begun and soon a carnival like atmosphere spreads among the normally quite and reserved Finns, who enthusiastically chat and raise their glasses together with persons they have never met before. May Day markets are full of knick-knacks, serpentines, flowers, whistles, May Day whisks, balloons and masks for children and childlike adults. Sparkling wines flow and there is spring in the air, and what does it matter if it is snowing, as it sometimes still does at the end of April.
The next day people head for parks to have picnics together with friends and family and brunches served in restaurants are also popular meeting points. Traditional May Day delicacies are fritters called “tippaleipä” and they are served together with homemade mead, “sima”.