May Day 2018 and 2019
May Day is a big celebration in Finland. It is a holiday that has multiple “intertwined” roots, some pagan, some Christian, some secular. In 2018, May Day falls on Tuesday 1 May.
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In the ancient past, Finns celebrated the arrival of spring around this time of year. During its time as a Catholic country, Finland celebrated the feast day of Saint Walburga on 1 May, in an attempt to supplant the old pagan rites. In modern times, 1 May became International Workers’ Day, or “Labour Day,” and this has also had its impact on the May Day celebrations in Finland.
However, Finnish May Day has evolved into a kind of national carnival that takes place in cities all over the country. People don colourful, playful costumes, make lots of noise, and some consume large quantities of “Nordic spirits.”
In the old pagan days, people would light large bonfires and dance around them, while making plenty of noise to scare off the witches and goblins. Today, Finns are much more likely to go on a May Day picnic instead. The winter snow is just barely gone or still barely lingering this time of year. It is a wonderful time to walk outdoors and enjoy the beginning of a Finnish spring.
Additionally, students from the University of Helsinki gather every “Havis Amanda,” Finnish for “First of May,” in Helsinki’s Market Square. They don white caps and surround the Havis Amanda statue, which looks like a mermaid and doubles as a fountain.
The students will also sometimes do practical jokes, so watch out! But you can safely buy the May Day Magazine joke collection they’ll be selling. Later, the students will gather in a park in downtown Helsinki for a picnic, and many tourists attend as well. There will be speeches, singing, and a brass band.