Vappu - The more you know.
April 30, 2008 1:04 PM   Subscribe

If you find yourself in Finland on the evening of April 30th or on May 1st, you must be aware of the following information. Today is Vappu. Also known as Walpurgis Night, Vappu is a traditional holiday in Finland, and there are a number of unique social customs and dress you must be aware of in order to avoid embarrassment and ridicule.

At it's core, Vappu is about drinking. This is not normal drinking. This is Finnish Drinking..

But this is not about the common aspects of the celebration. This is about the unique and sometimes confusing traditions of this national holiday.

First and foremost, there is the traditional student cap. This hat is worn by graduates, both young and old.
Not just for cranial warmth or academic reward, this hat is used in a wide variety of social displays.
The most famuous takes place in Helsinki, where he statue of Havis Amanda is capped by a team of local students. This tradition spreads to many other statues.

In addition to traditional hats, students also wear a traditional drinking uniform. These overalls are a relatively recent adoption by Finnish students.

Before 1970, the traditional drinking outfit for university students was the Spyfrack, or "Vomit Frock". This was typically a decorative coat purchased from a local thrift shop.

In the Early 70's, students from the Royal University of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden began to wear their labwear and overalls in social situations. It turns out that in their mad rush to begin drinking, they simply neglected to change into normal clothing.

However, more than just convenient, they discovered that these overalls were resistent to drinking related wear and tear.

This trend rapidly caught on and replaced the less robust Spyfrack.

In 1979, The University of Technology in Espoo hosted a student from the Royal University. Finnish students were so intrigued by his choice of drinking-wear that they began to borrow overalls from the local power company for their school trips to Germany in 1980 and 1982. This rapidly caught on, and in 1982 and 1983 schools began to formally adopt colored overalls as the official drinking uniform.

It is important to note that these are not simply protective outfits.

Each color corresponds to an individual professionor major. While there seems to be a commonly accepted set of color definitions, there are a wide variety of subtle variants.

More importantly, these coveralls are customized with a variety of patches, and other markings.

But Vappu is more than just an excuse to drink until you cannot drink anymore.

There is a traditional drink, Sima. It is basically a homemade mead, naturally carbonated with yeast.
You can also eat Tippaleivät. These are similiar to the German Schneeballen or for those more familiar, like a crunchy Funnel Cake.

But it isn't just drinking, overalls, hats, mead and fried desserts.

You have your choice of Humorous Magazines, published on Vappu and sold on any city street in Helsinki. Each magazine is published by the students of the Helsinki University of Technology. Julkku is published for even years, and Äpy is published during the odd ones.

For additional reading, I would suggest -
Coverall Analysis
More Coverall Analysis
Jolly Dragon Vappu Thread

Caveat - I am an American in Finland and a lot of this information is non-obvious. I think I have pieced together a proper portrayal of the holiday with this information, but it is possible I have crosslinked something in swedish or misunderstood a translation. If you come to harm because of any of these mistakes, I apologize profusely.
posted by Lord_Pall (12 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Woo, Walpurgisnacht post. Amazing job, by the way. Neat holiday with interesting variations from place to place and an awesome history. Can't have too many Odin related holidays.

Definitely going to link this to a friend. I was just trying to explain the holiday to her a few days ago, and this covers the Finnish bit a lot better than I did.
posted by Stunt at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2008

Interesting to read about this. When I was a kid in Michigan, it was the tradition to put whatever spring flowers or greenery we could find and leave it on peoples doorsteps for them to find.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2008

Wow...pardon the terrible grammar! Post lunch sleepies here.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:25 PM on April 30, 2008

BTW, one of the weirdest scenes from the uber-wonderful Faust (the one by Goethe!) takes place on Walpurgisnacht.
posted by kozad at 1:29 PM on April 30, 2008

Oh, also, my girlfriend and I are taking this opportunity to go ghost hunting. What better time to partake in such a ridiculous activity as on a holiday where the barrier between th physical realm and spirit realm is supposed to be weakened?

Also, I plan to work in the drinking later. God willing there will also be something resembling a bonfire.

This strikes me as a day that will either be great fun, or land me in jail somehow. I suppose those aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by Stunt at 1:34 PM on April 30, 2008

In the Early 70's, students from the Royal University of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden began to wear their labwear and overalls in social situations. It turns out that in their mad rush to begin drinking, they simply neglected to change into normal clothing.

Not entirely true. (KTH is around the corner from me.) The way I heard it was that traditionally, students would wear formal coats with tails, but as taxes were increased on alcohol beginning in the 1970s, most of the engineering students came upon the rather obvious idea that more money spent on clothes = less money to spend on acohol and thus the tradition was changed. You still see some wearing the tails, but 99% wear cheap coveralls.

Glad valborgmässoafton. It's a wet one. The rain in the Netherlands followed me home...
posted by three blind mice at 2:00 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

At it's core, Vappu is about drinking. This is not normal drinking. This is Finnish Drinking..

You mean alone, in silence?
posted by Pollomacho at 2:07 PM on April 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

Very interesting post. In Scotland I knew think of this day as Beltane and it looks like the two festivals are connected. Beltane is one of the Celtic quarter days - one of the others, Samhain, forms the roots of Halloween - and again there is the idea that the boundaries between the real and spirit world would be particularly thin at these times.
posted by rongorongo at 3:08 PM on April 30, 2008

This is really interesting. I like the idea of overalls as party wear ... very practical, but with all that customization they really aren't just any old pair, are they?
posted by sandraregina at 3:40 PM on April 30, 2008

That seems pretty much run of the mill interpretation of Goliard.

But remember ! Terrorist, God, Rapture, Disaster, Economic Depression, Peak oil. That's serious business YOU should be concerned about. I'm just keeping it real! Really ! I am not drunk!
posted by elpapacito at 5:06 PM on April 30, 2008

So, update that no one cares about but I feel compelled to post. Ghost hunting? damn near everything went wrong with this. The area we went to is mostly inhabited or private property with not many places to even really pull over to get out and wander. We eventually found a place that might make for good photos, found a place to stop, and headed over. So what happened? While trying to get set up for a photo I hear some kind of wild animal (I suspected) in the bushes behind us, and somewhere vaguely close there were a bunch of gunshots. Nooooo, not uncomfortable at all. So, home we went.

Since then? Yup, drinking. Not much to say about that. Beer is involved, the night has gotten better.

Bonfire? Well, we have a candle. With a crocheted candle-cozy-thing that the girlfriend made. Neat. It's far less...inferno like? than I would like, but it's SOMETHING.

So good, if somewhat unorthodox, day. Hope the rest of you that might have been celebrating vappu/valborg/walpurgis had a good time today as well. woo!
posted by Stunt at 2:57 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

A brit, a german, and a finn walk into a bar and order drinks. When their beers arrive, the brit toasts his friends and drinks. "Cheers!" The german does the same; "Prost!". The finn looks at both of them and says "Look, are we here to talk, or are we here to drink?"
posted by anthill at 5:41 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

« Older Love stories   |   'cause what would they say if they ever knew? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments