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. Christian holiday-making from that era specialized in the transformation of nature-based and animistic pagan celebrations into Christian holidays of extreme misogyny. The first of May is also Beltane, the Celtic and Gaelic pagan celebration of the beginning of summer, marked by driving cattle to their summer pastures (or here in urban Helsinki, by changing your car from winter to summer tires.)
It’s also when Finnish students wear their graduation hats and you will find balloons, confetti and picnics. It wouldn’t be a holiday without a special pastry either, in this case Tippaleipä — bread that looks like brains. There’s something sweet for every event, large or small, like the pastry that celebrates ice skating season.
As with so many pagan holidays, there is fire, as Wikipediat notes: “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…