Skip to content

A few have asked and some wonder – what do you do on May Day in Åbo? 

Labour Day — 22.4.2022

A few have asked and some wonder – what do you do on May Day?

After two years into the pandemic, restrictions, and distancing, we welcome spring in a more traditional way: May Day at the park on Vårdberget (Vartiovuorenmäki in Finnish). You may also hear people talk about Vappu, Vappen, Wappen, or Valborg, but all names refer to the same event. In Swedish, Vappen usually refers to 30 April and May Day usually refers to the 1st of May. In Finnish, everything is referred to as Vappu (or Vappuaatto and Vappu: Vappu Eve and Vappu). 

Every year, the same questions arise: What do you wear on May Day? What about May 1st? When do you put your student cap on? Where’s the afterparty? In this blog post, I will try my best to answer the most common questions! 

What kind of clothes should I wear? 

Traditionally, you wear slightly nicer clothes if you celebrate May Day on Vårdberget (also called Vårdis). Finnish students, who celebrate May Day at Puolalabacken (Puolalanmäki in Finnish), usually wear student overalls. Most people at Vårdberget wear dresses or suit jackets, but you are welcome as you are! What you choose to wear usually depends on what you are doing afterwards. If you are going to the Student Union building Kåren for the May Day Dinner, you might wear smart casual clothes.  

An important part of your outfit is of course your student cap. There are many different types of student caps, depending on what you study or where you graduated from prior to your university studies. Anyone who is admitted to a university has the right to wear a student cap, regardless of one’s prior studies! 

You can wear the student cap between May Day and Little Walpurgis (and more specifically between the times when the Chair of the Board of the Student Union of ÅAU (ÅAS) says “students, spring is here – put your caps on” on 30 April and ”students, autumn is here – caps inside out” on Little Walpurgis on 30  September . 

The student cap is decorated with a lyre. Depending on which student union one belongs to, students use different lyres. The ”standard lyre” is the lyre of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, but can be replaced if you study at another university. Those who study at Åbo Akademi University thus use the Student Union of ÅAU’s lyre. The lyre can be bought from the Student Union’s service points, Kåren in Åbo or Havtornen in Vasa! 

The Mayflower also usually adorns many people’s outfits – some attach the flower to the jacket or dress, I myself put my flowers to the edge of the student cap. In Åbo you can buy Mayflowers from school children, but also from e.g. Luckan. If you have missed a year’s Mayflower, Folkhälsan usually has a small stock left, in case you want all the flowers since you graduated! 

What’s happening up at Vårdberget? 

The choirs Brahe Djäknar and the Florakören will stand in front (on the south side) of the Observatory. If you want to hear something, place yourself in front of the choir and preferably near one of the speakers. The programme begins at 6 p.m. and it can be smart to be on time. 

Behind the choirs will be the flags of ÅAS’ student associations. The flag procession starts from the Student Union building, Kåren, and goes along Tavastgatan, up to Kaskisgatan, and into and through the park. Once they are in place, the choirs begin to sing. The Chair of the Board gives a speech and tells the audience to put their caps on. The whole event is broadcasted by the public service media company Yle, so you will find a lot of Yle tents and people in the crowd. 

As previously mentioned, one should wait for the Chair of the Board’s words “students, spring is here – put your caps on” (said in Swedish: studenter, våren är här – mössorna på.”). After that, you can put on your more or less clean caps! 

If you have sparkling wine with you, you can open it when you get thirsty, or wait until Brahe Djäknar sings ”Champagnerlied” and sabers a bottle of champagne. Wait for the long ”champaaagne” and open your bottle at the same time as the choir! But as I said – if you get thirsty, you can drink what you have in the bottle when you get thirsty. 

There are many trash bins around the park, both for metal and glass as well as burnable waste. Please, do not litter! The next day, May 1st, a picnic is arranged in the park. If the weather is good, the whole park is packed with students! 

What else happens at Vårdis? 

One of the best things about May Day, in my opinion, is that all the students gather in one and the same park. One moment I’m talking to someone from my freshman year, and a few minutes later I’m talking to a professor. ÅAU love, or #åakärlek, is something everyone feels during May Day.  

Other fun things happening around May Day? 

The night between May 29 and 30, the Chair of the Board of ÅAS gives a speech, and the May Day magazine Errores S:tae Walpurgis is distributed. 

If you look up towards the Observatory on Vårdberget, especially at the flagpole, you may see one of the ÅAS student associations’ flags waving at the top. How it ended up there and who ended up bribing is a story for another time. 

What do I wear on the 1st of May? 

Students usually wear their student overalls on May Day. Bring your favorite picknick foods to  the park at Vårdberget and enjoy! Hopefully the weather is good, but if not, the atmosphere will make up for it. The park will be filled with students and families enjoying that spring is finally here! 
Happy May Day! 

Veera Julin
Secretary General, the Student Union of ÅAU