Finland shows carnival colours on May Day

All of Finland goes wild every year on May Day. Our photographers capture the spirit of the holiday in a slideshow.

Every year on April 30 and May 1, Finland seems to go crazy as people celebrate May Day. Our photographers roamed the Finnish capital to record the boisterous celebration in pictures.

May 1 is Labour Day in many countries, including Finland. However, the Finns also see it as a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring, and numerous festive student traditions are also associated with the date. In fact, just about everyone gets in on the action – May Day and the preceding evening represent the biggest party of the year.

April 30 and May 1 are called Vappu in Finnish and Valborg in Swedish, which is also an official language in Finland. Walpurgis is the English word, referring to the feast of Saint Walpurga. All over  Finland, people dust off their white, secondary-school graduation caps and wear them around town, and the parks are filled with picnicking partiers of all ages.

First of May frolic

A group of university students being lift up by a crane; a group of other students watching.

Every year on April 30 in a long-held tradition, a crane lifts a group of university students so they can place a graduation cap upon the head of Havis Amanda, a landmark statue in the Finnish capital (visible beneath the crane baskets at the centre of the picture).Photo: Susanna Alatalo

A group of smiling students posing in their student overalls and graduation caps.

On May Day and during the week leading up to it, various student groups wear customised overalls to protect their clothes – and themselves – from the wear and tear of a long stretch of partying.Photo: Leena Karppinen

A close-up of a balloon vendor's bundle, showing an Angry Birds and Piglet balloon.

Don’t get mad, get angry! An Angry Bird bobs up and down with other balloons in a vendor’s bundle.Photo: Leena Karppinen

A young girl with a pink pompom.

Picnic pompom: Finns of all ages get into the festive spirit on May Day.Photo: Leena Karppinen

A smiling clown creating balloon figures in front of Helsinki Cathedral.

A clown creates balloon figures in front of Helsinki Cathedral.Photo: Leena Karppinen

A parade headed by an orchestra.

Because of its association with the labour movement, May 1 is also a day for parades and political speeches.Photo: Leena Karppinen

Students dancing outside on a wooden platform.

What picnic would be complete without music and dancing?Photo: Leena Karppinen

A smiling student in yellow sunglasses and scarf and the graduation cap holding a glass of Mimosa.

Cheers! It’s May 1 and the sun is shining!Photo: Leena Karppinen

A large crowd of people picknicking at a park with colourful balloons.

Balloons and bubbly: Kaivopuisto, a large seaside park in Helsinki, is blanketed with party-minded picnickers on May 1. Foto: Leena Karppinen

A park filled with picknickers; some with tents or canopies.

The art of the Finnish May Day picnic may include a tent complete with tables, chairs and a multicourse meal, for those who are not satisfied with a mere blanket on the ground.Photo: Leena Karppinen

Photos by Leena Karppinen and Susanna Alatalo
By Peter Marten