Thursday, May 1, 2008

First of May in Finland

Walpurgis Night is a traditional Pagan holiday and a Roman Catholic Saint's day celebrated on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe.

Walpurga was honored in the same way that Vikings had celebrated spring and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. Early Christianity had a policy of 'Christianising' pagan festivals so it is perhaps no accident that St. Walpurga's day was set to May 1st.

Historically Walpurgisnacht is derived from various Pagan spring customs. In the Norse tradition, Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen". It commemorates the time when Odin died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes, and the night is said to be a time of weakness in the boundary between the living and the dead. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day.

Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto, Valborgsmässoafton) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages. The student traditions are also one of the main characteristics of "Vappu". From the end of the 19th century, "Fin de Siècle", and onwards, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap.

This is me yesterday:

Many people who have graduated from lukio wear the cap. The university students wear overalls which are vary depending on the school and the faculty. One tradition is drinking sima, whose alcohol content varies. Fixtures in Turku include the capping of the Lilja, a nude female statue by Wäinö Aaltonen.

The Finnish tradition is also a shadowing of the Socialist May Day parade. Expanding from the parties of the left, the whole of the Finnish political scene has adopted Vappu as the day to go out on stumps and agitate. This does not only include center and right-wing parties, but also other institutions like the church have followed suit, marching and making speeches.

The First of May is also a day for everything fun and crazy: children and families gather in market places to celebrate the first day of the spring and the coming summer. There are balloons and joy, people drink their first beers outside, there are clowns and masks and a lot of fun. The first of May includes colourful streamers, funny and silly things and sun. The first of May means the beginning of the spring for many people in Finland. There is also an erotic frisson involved with Vappu's ribald side. The only semi-humorous adage is that one who doesn't have a romantic partner on Vappu will have to make do without one also on midsummer night.

Traditionally May 1st is celebrated by a picnic in a park (Vartiovuorenmäki in Turku). For most, the picnic is enjoyed with friends on a blanket with good food and sparkling wine. Some people, however, arrange extremely lavish picnics with pavilions, white table cloths, silver candelabras, classical music and lavish food. The picnic usually starts early in the morning, and some hardcore party goers continue the celebrations of the previous evening without sleeping in between. Some Student organisations have traditional areas where they camp every year and they usually send someone to reserve the spot early on. As with other Vappu traditions, the picnic includes student caps, sima, streamers and balloons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How interesting to read about your 1st of May tradition and celebration in Finland. I feel you make more out of it than we do in Norway, although the Russ have quite a lot of fun though.

I'm in our vacation house in Sweden this weekend and this is what we did the same day.

Wishing you a great end to your week :-)