Finnish for busy people

Vappu 1.5. – May Day – Finnish Vocabulary

Vappu is the name of the Finnish May Day celebrations. Vappu packs three reasons to celebrate into one. Vappu is Finnish labor day. The rights of the workers have been celebrated on this day since the early 1900’s. In addition, vappu is also an important celebration for students.

It’s also the perfect time to celebrate the beginning of spring (kevät), which is also where the deep roots of May Day lay. Around this time of the year, there used to be an ancient spring celebration  where villages would build bonfires, dance and sing to evict evil spirits and winter. While May is a spring month in Finland, it’s not terribly exceptional for it to still snow around May Day.

The name vappu is derived from the name Valburg. Saint Walburga was mother superior in a nunnery during the middle ages. She and her brother did important work to spread Christianity in Europe and Finland.

Finnish English
vappu May Day
vappupäivä 1st of May
vappuaatto 30th of April
kevät spring
juhla celebration
perinne, traditio tradition
karnevaali carnival
työväki workforce
työläinen worker, laborer
työntekijä employee
opiskelija student
ylioppilas high school graduate
yliopisto-opiskelija university student
teekkari technical university student
kevään juhla spring celebration
opiskelijoiden juhla student celebration
työväen juhla workers’ celebration
liputuspäivä flag day
kansallinen vapaapäivä national holiday

Bustling City Center May Day Events

On May Day, the city centers are generally packed with people wearing a white cap with a black flap (ylioppilaslakki). These caps are awarded to students that graduate (valmistua) high school (lukio). On May Day, everyone dusts their cap off and puts it on – no matter how many decades ago they graduated.

In addition to the caps, the city centers are usually also full of university (yliopisto) students wearing overalls (haalarit). Each city and university has these overalls, which differ in color based on what the university students are majoring in.

Different cities have traditions of their own. In Helsinki on the evening before May Day, students will put a big student cap on the female statue called Havis Amanda. In Tampere, first-year students of the Technical University get “baptized” (teekkarikaste). They enter a small floating platform and are dipped into the water of Tammerkoski (the rapids in the city center) while drinking champagne.

Finnish English
ylioppilaslakki student cap, graduation cap (pic)
opiskelijahaalarit student boilersuit (link)
haalarit overalls, coveralls
teekkarikaste university student “baptism”
valmistua lukiosta to graduate from high school
juhlia vappua to celebrate May Day
kokoontua keskustaan to gather in the city center
ilmapallo balloon (pic)
serpentiini streamer
vappuhuiska May Day fan (pic)
vappuviuhka May Day fan
naamari mask

Typical May Day Celebration Foods

There are several food related traditions related to May Day. Firstly, many people like to go to a restaurant with friends or family to eat brunch or lunch there. It’s also common to go on a May Day picnic with friends, if the weather permits it. Many people also buy tippaleipä from the store, which is a crunchy, sweet, deep fried snack. Another common sweet food is munkki, a type of Finnish donut. In the city centers, they also sell cotton candy and liquorice to the masses gathering there.

As is typical for most Finnish celebrations, May Day generally includes alcohol. Sparkly wine and champagne are common beverages. In addition, the traditional May Day drink is sima, Finnish fermented mead. Many families make their own using lemons, honey, yeast and raisins.

Finnish English
sima Finnish mead (link)
tippaleipä funnel cake (link)
munkki Finnish donut (pic)
alkoholi alcohol
kuohuviini sparkling wine
samppanja champagne
piknik, piknikki picnic
silli herring
perunasalaatti potato salad
vappulounas May Day lunch
vappubrunssi May Day brunch
hattara cotton candy, candy floss
lakritsi, laku liquorice
käydä piknikillä to go on a picnic

Example Sentences

Finnish English
Hyvää vappua! Happy May Day!
Vappu on suomalaisen työn juhla. Vappy is the Finnish labor day.
Vappu on ylioppilaiden juhla. Vappu is the celebration of students
Vappuna juhlitaan kevään alkamista. At Vappu, we celebrate the beginning of spring.
Vappuna juodaan paljon alkoholia. A lot of alcohol is drunk at Vappu.
Ihmiset kokoontuvat torille. The people mass together on the square.
Juhlitaan vappua! Let’s celebrate Vappu!
Vappu on iloinen juhla. May Day is a joyful celebration.
Ihmisillä on päässä ylioppilaslakki. People are wearing the graduation cap on their head.
Opiskelijoilla on haalarit päällä. Students are wearing overalls.
Torilla myydään ilmapalloja. On the market square balloons are sold.
Lapsella on ilmapallo. The child has a balloon.
Vappuna syödään tippaleipiä. At Vappy people eat funnel cakes.
Haluan syödä vappumunkkeja. I want to eat May Day donuts.
Juodaan samppanjaa! Let’s drink champagne!
Nuo ihmiset ovat humalassa. Those people are drunk.
Haluan itse tehdä simaa. I want to make Finnish mead myself.
Juodaan itsetehtyä simaa! Let’s drink home-made mead!
Tänä vuonna jäädään kotiin vappuna. This year we’ll stay home for May Day.
Järjestetään kotibileitä! Let’s have a house party!
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In the translations vappupäivä should be 1st of May, and vappuaatto should be 30th of April.

By the way, was vappu in Finland originally indeed the labor day? According to the Finnish Wikipedia:

“Nimi vappu tulee 700-luvulla eläneestä baijerilaisesta abbedissa Valburgista. Vappua on juhlittu keskiajalta lähtien – myös Suomessa – 1. toukokuuta, joka on Valburgin pyhimykseksi julistamisen päivä.”

“Suomessa, Ruotsissa, Virossa, Saksassa ja Latviassa vappu on vanha juhlapäivä, jonka juhlinta perustuu valpurinpäivään tai muihin perinteisiin. Useimmissa muissa maissa päivä on tullut juhlapäiväksi työväenliikkeen myötä, joka 1800-luvun lopulla valitsi sen kansainväliseksi juhlapäiväkseen.”

It seems that vappu is a very old tradition in Finland, labor day is more recent.

Inge (admin)

You’re right, I’ve gotten my facts mixed up somehow! I think I originally maybe wanted to say that labor day was the first context where it was an official holiday? Who knows, I can’t remember. That part of the article was written many months ago xD