Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hei, it's Vappu!

Terveiset Teille, toivo Kalle..näin Toukokuussa Vuosi 2008! Today is Vappu, a major holiday in Finland. It's time to get out there, enjoy life, be a Finn for a day, and (if you really want to emulate your Nordic brethren) party till you puke.

Vappu, or May Day, has been the cause for celebrations in Europe for hundreds of years. In modern times it became the equivalent of Labor Day in this country, but the holiday itself was celebrated long before industrialization turned workers into wage slaves. Its roots lie, of course, in the traditional pagan celebrations of Beltane. It's a spring festival that falls midway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice and commemorates the true end of harsh weather and the beginning of the growing season. Agrarian societies had reason to celebrate Vappu -- the snow was gone, flowers were blooming, early crops may have already been planted, so they knew the seasons had turned to the point where they no longer had to worry about either starving or freezing to death. It's a fun holiday with no (unless you're pagan or wiccan) overt religious symbolism tied to it, so it's not surprising Vappu celebrations have persisted into the 21st century.

It's becoming quite the annual event among Finnish-Americans, too, marked by dances at the Finn hall (but probably not at the one pictured above in Herman, Michigan), community picnics, bonfires, and other celebrations throughout the U.S., although not necessarily today. Finns are a pragmatic people, and in recognition that not everyone would have today free from work, Vappu celebrations were scheduled for this past weekend and for this coming one. The Finnish American Club in Port Richey, Florida, will be having a Vappu lunch on Sunday, May 4; the folks at Saima Park in Massachusetts had their Vappu gathering last weekend on April 26.

I'm not sure when Vappu started being celebrated again in this country. I don't remember ever hearing about a Vappu dance until sometime in the 1990s. Thanks to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, Vappu was a nonevent in the U.S. for many years. Older Finns who had survived both the tragedy of Karelian fever prior to World War II and the anti-communist fervor of the Eisenhower era wanted nothing to do with a holiday that had become associated in many minds with the Soviets. (Anyone else remember seeing the tv coverage of the Soviet May Day military parades?) But then Communism fell, third and fourth generation Finnish-Americans with no strong memories of the Red Scare reached adulthood and began taking an interest in their ethnic heritage, and Vappu reappeared. Vappu's rebirth is probably connected to the growth of events such as FinnFest, the survival of publications like the Finnish American Reporter and New World Finn, the unlikely persistence of Carl Pellonpaa and Finland Calling (the longest running Finnish language television program in the United States, viewable now via the internet), and maybe the overall appeal of symbolic ethnicity.

Or maybe underneath it all we're all just pagans who love any excuse for a party.

As Carl poika would say, Hei hei. Now get out there and enjoy the day.

1 comment:

  1. if i ever quit barfing ..i will celebrate..happy vappu...or what ever


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