Vappu. Wappu. Wabu. May Day. A sweet child has many names. Wappu is one of the most notable phenomena of Finnish student culture, and thus marks the highlight of the academic year for many Finnish students. In Haaga-Helia students have celebrated the Helga 8 Day May Day since 2010, but the traditions of student wappu go as far as the early 19th century. So, what’s this Wappu all about then?
The brief long history of Wappu
The name Wappu (also known as May Day in English) originally comes from a German 8th century abbess Saint Walpurga (Valpuri in Finnish), whose canonization as a Saint is celebrated on the 1st of May. In Germany the Walpurgis Night has been celebrated since the middle ages as the day witches were believed to fly to the Witches’ Sabbaths. However, the beginning of spring or summer has been celebrated all around Europe in the turn of April and May for even longer.
In the early 19th century Finnish undergraduates also began celebrating the coming of spring on the Flora Day, 13th of May, when they would gather together to sing and the “winter cap” was symbolically switched to the “spring cap”. This is where the tradition of placing the student cap on one’s head at a specific point of Wappu most likely comes from. In the 1920s students moved their springtime celebrations to the Walpurgis day on 1st of May.
Since, the most important Wappu traditions in the capital region include the declaration of May Day Madness, which takes place in Otaniemi, and Mantan lakitus, a ceremony where a large student cap is placed on top of the Havis Amanda statue in central Helsinki. On the “main day”, 1st of May, students gather for a picnic at Ullanlinnanmäki (a place known as Kaivopuisto park on any other time of the year). Similar celebrations take place all around Finland.
Over the years a numerous amount of other Wappu-related events organized during the week(s) leading to Wappu have come alongside these very traditional celebrations to grow the sense of community among students and celebrate their student identity. Many of these events include some kind of “rite of passage” for first year students, such as “coverall baptising” or granting the student cap. Helga’s traditional Coverall Baptism is a great example of such an event.
Wappu à la Helga
The Wappu traditions in Helga began in their current form in 2010, when the Helga 8 Day May Day was organized for the first time. The event was organized together with the Haaga-Helia student associations, so that every association was responsible for their own event day. According to the name, the celebrations back then lasted for 8 consecutive days, although the number of event days has increased over the years with new associations joining. The name has still remained the same – it makes no sense to change it every year, now does it?
The concept of the 8 Day May Day has remained the same despite the increasing number of events. The attending students get a stamp to their Wappu Pass from each event they attend. Attending at least six (6) events earns you a coverall patch. There are separate coverall patches for students celebrating their first, second, third and fourth Wappu, and together the patches connect to a conjoined picture, a bit like a puzzle. Those who survive every single event of the Wappu are awarded with a laminated diploma to hang on their student coveralls.
To celebrate Helga’s 15-year history, this year’s 8 Day May Day grows to last for 15 days. Over the years there have been a large variety of events, some of which have even reached a legendary status and some have profiled as one of the most important events their organizing association organizes annually. Some legendary event concepts have already been buried and replaced with new ones. The event offering has included various different kinds of events, spanning from appros (pub crawls) to checkpoint races and from a downhill sliding contest to a dodgeball tournament. At best the 12-day-long Wappu celebrations have included five (5) different appro-events.
One of the highlights of the 8 Day May Day, especially for first year students, has always been Helga’s Coverall Baptism. It is a checkpoint race organized on Hietaniemi beach around in the halfway of the Wappu celebrations, and it has offered students the chance to put their student coveralls to the test. In reality, this does not mean anything nasty like deliberately getting the coveralls dirty or any kind of hazing. Much like the Freshers’ Day, the checkpoints, hosted by Helga, the Haaga-Helia student associations and other stakeholder parties, have been organized purely to have fun and raise the team spirit. Except maybe one “fish checkpoint”, which was banned pretty quickly. But enough about that.
The climax of the Coverall Baptism is the actual baptism ceremony down on the beach at the end of the checkpoint race. During the ceremony the students will come together to give the coverall oath, after which they have the opportunity to literally baptise their coveralls in the ocean. Whether it’s dipping your sleeve briefly in the shoreline, or diving in head first, you do you. Completing the checkpoint race is enough to earn the Kastettu (Baptised) coverall patch as a sign of, well, baptising your coveralls.
On the main day, 1st of May, all roads lead to one place. And that ain’t Rome. Like other students in the capital region, the Haaga-Helia students also gather to Ullanlinnanmäki. The Kaivarin Wappu event is usually organized by Helga and the other capital region student unions as a conjoined final climax of the Wappu celebrations. In many years Bailataan.fi (nowadays known as Kide.app) has also been involved in organizing the event.
In addition to student coveralls, the official attire during the 1st of May includes the student cap. The endless sea of white caps everywhere you look is a breathtaking view
The “program” of Kaivarin Wappu is usually very casual. The brave students who have attended at least six (6) events are given the coverall patch at Helga’s tent, and the heroes with a full Wappu Pass are awarded the diploma for surviving every event of the 8 Day May Day. Helga has also taken care of catering, and students presenting their Wappu Pass have been served for example hot dogs. In many years there’s even been a full roasted pig. Vegetarian options have not been forgotten either. The celebrating students have been entertained by a DJ, and some years there has been some quite casual program, such as speed dating. In essence though, Kaivarin Wappu is a collective, casual picnic – an ultimate “sillis” (a herring dinner traditionally organized the day after for example annual galas) at the end of a two-week Wappu celebration.
In all its madness the Finnish student Wappu is one of a kind. Especially during the 30th of April and 1st of May the atmosphere resembles any world-famous carnival celebration, but this is the only place in the world where you’ll see thousands of students in their coveralls celebrating student life. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that as the current situation normalizes, each one of you will have a chance to experience the normal student Wappu at least once during your studies. Until then, let us with great pride show example to the whole world, in that the greatest student celebration in the world can be as memorable responsibly in a remote environment. After all, Wappu is not a place. Wappu is a state of mind.
Sami Ranta-aho, Helga-alumni
08.04.2021 226 days left for Helga’s annual gala.