Vappu, the Finnish holiday celebrated on May 1, turns out to be the shortening of the name of Valpurga, and is a celebration of Saint Walpurga, a German saint, known for her enthusiasm for witch-burning. The era when Walpurga was sainted seems to be the era of turning pagan holidays into Christian holidays of extreme misogyny, because the first of May is also Beltane, the Celtic and Gaelic pagan celebration of the beginning of summer, which is marked by driving cattle out to their summer pastures (or here in urban Helsinki, by changing your car from winter to summer tires.)
And it’s also when students wear their hats in Finland, and you will find balloons, confetti and picnics. It wouldn’t be a holiday without a special pastry either, in this case Tippaleipä –the bread that looks like brains.
As with so many pagan holidays, and Christian holidays adapted from the pagan ones, fire is central to the celebration: “Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The people and their cattle would walk around or between bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire.”
It’s also International Workers Day. Maypole dancing also occurs apparently, though I’ve never witnessed this. The first Mayday celebrations were Roman, and were associated with Flora, the flower goddess. Flowers are meant to appear, but it was snowing here this morning…