Chemistry student Annu Nurmela and Finnish language student Riikka Rintala attending an early May Day event organised by the Jyväskylä subject teacher students’ association (Jano ry) in Normaalikoulu on Wednesday 20th April.
Chemistry student Annu Nurmela and Finnish language student Riikka Rintala attending an early May Day event organised by the Jyväskylä subject teacher students’ association (Jano ry) in Normaalikoulu on Wednesday 20th April. Pictures: Matti Parkkinen

The two-day celebrations include doughnuts, balloons, speeches, and of course alcohol.

May Day in Finland is mostly about drinking even though it celebrates the Finnish workers, students, and the spring. It includes lots and lots of sparkling wine, picnics in parks and rallies in cities across the whole country. The first of May is one of the biggest holidays after Christmas and Midsummer and it is definitely the biggest carnival-style festival in the country.

During the two-day celebrations, Finns think summer is already here and usually that leads to many people wearing too little clothes. The solution to their problem is naturally alcohol that is enjoyed in various May Day events in the course of the celebrations. The essentials for this holiday are alcohol, student caps, picnics, balloons and a fun spirit.


The May Day celebrations start on the 30 of April. In Jyväskylä, the statue of Minna Canth, which is located by the church, gets a student cap on its head. There will also be some speeches and music, and as a bonus, the event is held in English also.

The same kinds of events are held all around Finland. The biggest one of these events is in Helsinki, where every year a statue called Havis Amanda, which is more familiarly known as Manta, gets a student cap on its head. For many, the ceremony is a ”must see” thing in the course of the May Day celebrations.

In addition to the statues wearing the black-and-white student cap, many university students also wear the cap during May Day. It is a sign that you have graduated from high school and usually all the hats are almost alike. Only the engineering students have a cap that is easily recognized from others since it has a tassel hanging from its top.


The May Day celebrations usually take two days, starting on the evening of 30 April and continuing to 1 May, and they concentrate around getting as drunk as one possibly can. After watching the statues get their student caps, especially university students enjoy sparkling wine and other alcoholic drinks while wandering around the city having fun.

A traditional party drink in Finland is called sima. It is a sweet sparkling brew that is spiced with lemon and raisins. It is usually served with doughnuts or a special funnel cake called tippaleipä. Sima doesn’t have a lot of alcohol in it so everyone drinks it around the time of May Day.

When it comes to decorations, balloons are a traditional decoration in May Day parties. You can also see vendors with a huge amount of balloon strapped to their waists on Kauppakatu during the week before the actual celebration day and a lot of excited kids gazing up to find the perfect balloon for their parents to buy for them.

With these balloon sellers, there are also a lot of vendors selling carnival-style stuff to people. Masks, funny hats, and candy are the biggest selling hits every year.

Chemistry student Jonas Hammarström enjoying a doughnut.
Chemistry student Jonas Hammarström enjoying a doughnut.

With all the alcohol, Finns also need something to eat during May Day celebrations. Food plays a huge role especially in the picnics held on the first of May. Traditional May Day foods are freshly cooked doughnuts, funnel cakes, frankfurters and potato salad.

Doughnuts and funnel cakes are eaten on picnics on the first of May. Usually the picnics take place on meadows or green areas in cities. In Jyväskylä, people, especially students, take blankets, wine, and food to Harju and continue celebrating May Day there. The picnic is organized by the Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä.

For some, a May Day picnic is the place to cure their hangover or to continue with the drinking. Actually, what could be better than lying in the sun, drinking sparkling wine with your friends and eating brunch food?


Being the holiday of the workers, there are also rallies in Finnish cities on May Day. In Jyväskylä, the traditional ”vappumarssi” is walked on May 1 at 11 starting from Ilmarisenkatu. The same kinds of rallies are held all over Finland.

Many times the preparations for May Day start a week before May 1. This year many student organization in Jyväskylä organize their own May Day related events throughout the week and they conclude the series of events at the picnic in Harju.

So be prepared for a full week of festivities that reach their peak on the eve of May Day and remember to stock up on sima and doughnuts, you’ll need those at the picnic.