Today is Walburgh Night, of Vappu as its called in Finland. At home, May Day is traditionally celebrated by students as well as workers. The latter was introduced by the Labour Movement in the early 20th century and manifests itself today mainly with marches and demonstrations held on the streets of the cities on 1st May.
But to me Vappu is more about being young, being a student in Helsinki and having fun. (this the excuse I’m sticking to for posting an old photo of me in my student cap). There are foods that are especially consumed on this day, such as tippaleipä, a pastry made out of soft batter arranged in what could only be described and a bird’s nest. Then there’s sima, a yeast-fermented lemonade. Sounds awful, but it is delicious. My mother used to make it a few weeks before Vappu and store in the scary cellar we had underneath our block of flats.
Then of course, there’s vodka. I cannot pretend that vast quantities of alcohol aren’t consumed during the festivities, as anyone who’s been to the Nordic countries on Walburgh Night will testify.
For the Swedish-speaking community in Finland and students of Hanken, in particular, the Vappu Eve parties carried well into the early hours of the next day. Traditionally on 1st of May, Sillis, a breakfast of sill (raw fish) and vodka would be served. It was considered weak to go to bed in between the party in the evening and the Sillis in the morning.
In Britain, I rarely celebrate Vappu in a similar fashion. On one or two occasions when, like this year, the 1st of May coincides with the bank holiday (usually it’s annoyingly a few days after or before), we have a few schnapps and wear silly hats. Now we are no longer bound by the term dates, as both the children have left school, I’d really like to go to Finland for Vappu. Though I expect there won’t be many of my friends who still organize a Sillis. Nor will any of us be able to stay up past ten o’clock, or drink vast quantities of anything but sima (though no doubt we’ll give it a go). Oh well.
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