Foreign people in Finland may not know what to expect when they hear about Vappu, the Labour Day. 10 years ago that was the case with Harun Makandi, a Master’s degree student of Geoinformatic, who had been in Finland for almost two years.
This article was first published on 27th of April 2007. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Makandi didn't know much about Vappu first, but was eager to be a part of the spectacle. He noticed that after a long winter, the day brought about a summer mood.
“It’s a spectacular thing to see people, who don’t normally show their emotions, happy and smiling”, Makandi says.
On the first of 1 May 2006, he and his friends, both Finnish and international, went to Havis Amanda by the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art to witness the traditional cleaning of the statue.
“The student organizations gave speeches, of course in Finnish. At the end they were cleaning the statue with what looked like a giant toothbrush”, recalls Makandi.
The tradition did fall a bit short of his expectations, because according to something he read, the Swedish students were supposed to smear honey on the genitals of the statue and wait for the flies to be attracted and cling to it. The Finns were supposed to clean the statue afterwards. Even though this never happened, Makandi found the event quite interesting. He then spent the rest of the day by the river with his friends.
On Vappu day, the Student Union hosts the annual TYYlikäs Vappu picnic on Vartiovuorenmäki. Even though Vappu, or May Day, is supposed to be the Finnish Labour Day, Makandi definitely knows that it is student-dominated.
“It’s fun, special and exotic. And for a very environmentally friendly country, everyone is surprisingly not very environmental on Vappu”, he says recalling beer bottles floating in the river.
True, Vappu can be seen as a crazy time of parties for transitioning into the summer months after the winter.
“Vappu is a mark of Finnish culture”, Makandi states.
Harun Makandi in 2007.