In Finland the 1st of May is celebrated as Vappu – a day of great celebration and partying. There are many traditions associated with Vappu – the most noticeable is that many high school graduates (everyone from recent graduates to those who graduated decades ago) wear their white graduation caps. Students all over Finland (and Sweden too it seems) get up to all sorts of crazy things – here in Helsinki they gather to wash one of the city’s famous statues, and then descend on Kaivopuisto park for the picnic of the year (we visited the park a week before Vappu – you can see some photos here). It was also really fun to see all the balloons in town – there were hawkers selling huge numbers of extravagant helium balloons in all the public spaces. For a discussion of the history of Vappu, you can see the Helsingin Sanomat’s extensive article here and you can check out Wikipedia’s article about Vappu here. And if you want to see what it looks like… just try a GoogleImages search for Vappu – there’s tonnes of photos.
Vappu traditions also include food and drink. It seems that sparkling wines are nearly compulsory – in fact even the packaging of some Vappu foods is decorated with bottles of champagne. The other drink that is assocated with Vappu is sima – a lovely type of mead, made from brown sugar. I really enjoyed it, and might try to make some of my own when our summer weather warms up a bit (an example of a recipe can be found here).
In terms of food, tippaleipä (tippa = drop, leipä = bread) is pretty characteristic. Tippaleipä looks like a bird’s nest covered in castor sugar, but tastes like a sugary crispy cracker biscuit. These sweet snacks are made by slowly pouring a wheat dough / batter into hot oil – the batter crisps quickly when in the oil, and with some skillful pouring the desired tangle is achieved. According to the English page for this subject on Wikipedia, they are known as funnel cakes in the US (since the batter is poured into the oil using a funnel).
Rosetti are another crunchy Vappu treat – they are also made by deep-frying a dough, but a specially-shaped iron is used to create intricate shapes. We were lucky enough to enjoy a friend’s home-made rosetti’s the night before Vappu, and definitely preferred them to tippaleipä as they are much lighter and sweeter. A third sweet treat enjoyed on Vappu is a type of doughnut known as a munkki (= monk). At Töölö Towers we were also served munkki at the start of Lent, so I think it is probably just enjoyed when ever a good enough reason can be found!
The final Vappu treat I’m mentioning for now (and that I greatly enjoyed) is nakki. Nakki (and the larger version makkara) are traditional Finnish knackworst-style sausages. Apparently Finns love cooking these sausages over an open fire and enjoying them with mustard (“sinappi” in Finnish). Now with summer on its way I expect that we’ll see lots more people outside munching on a nakki with sinappi!