Remembering how — and why — we celebrate good times

I just got back from a two-day conference in Finland and while plenty of conversations at the event were intriguing and left me with inspiration on what makes “good places for a good life” (more on that to come, in another blog soon!) I’m so glad I decided to head to Helsinki early for some weekend fun before the conference began.

My “just for fun” weekend overlapped with Finland’s annual “Vappu” celebration, a combo graduation-and-May-Day extravaganza that’s better explained by Helsinki Partners here.

Aside from just giving the weekend a great festive vibe, being part of the holiday there this year gave me a viscerally real reminder of how important it is for us as humans — and as communities — to embrace the power of celebrations.

I loved Vappu because literally every corner of the two cities I visited over the course of two days — since festivities kick off on the evening of April 30 and run throughout the day on May 1 — was packed with people just enjoying time together.

While there were certainly wine corks popping and plenty of fried foods for sale (a true love language I share with my fellow Midwesterners), along with the largest cotton candy I’ve ever seen in my life, on offer from another street vendor, people weren’t focused on over-consuming or over-indulging.

It was clear that the point of the celebration, and what made the days special, was simply enjoying time at leisure, and the arrival of a new season: with the caveat that it was only around 4°C/ 40°F most of the weekend!

What people were enjoying was spending and having time to be with people who matter to you.

And it was just plain fun. I spent April 30 in Turku, Finland’s “second city” and former capital. Celebrations there featured a kickin’ live cover band, flame-twirlers, open patios, a food truck village, and other creature comforts that made it easy to enjoy the twilight, with the sky not falling truly dark until close to 10 PM. As a now-Northern European expat, I truly have learned to appreciate the luster of a late sunset!

Celebrations in both Turku and Helsinki, where I traveled back to on May 1, were also notably inclusive. The events, organized and not, attracted diverse crowds no matter where you were or what was happening.

Students, eager to mark their academic achievements in true “Vappu” fashion, wore coveralls with fun, colorful patches that proudly proclaimed their major and extra-curricular involvements — with many donning patches that showed explicit support for LGBTQ+ rights, for instance.

The mix of ages and genders all partying together in both Turku and Helsinki, with everyone seemingly more than welcome to enjoy the music and cool temps, definitely stood out — in a good way.

The event was also notably inclusive, with several people grooving to the catchy tunes and enjoying the night from a wheelchair or using other personal mobility aids, in a public square that had noticeable accessibility friendly features.

Finally, and equally important, the event also felt safe. I was there on my own as a solo traveler but never once was I harassed, made to feel “other,” or worried about my surroundings. I, and others there, were free to enjoy the sights and sounds of excited students, parents, and other visitors who were all eager to just soak in the celebrations. 

I hope this is a message the SITE community is especially eager to embrace, not only because the association is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary, but because it’s what incentive travel is also inherently designed to do — celebrate the achievements of those who have hit their goals and accomplished some truly amazing things for their teams and their companies. 

Embrace whatever spirit you want – be it Vappu, your own national day, SITE’s 50th anniversary, or whatever other milestones and markers surface for you this year.

But whatever the reason, here’s a call to action I hope we’ll all eagerly pick up: let’s celebrate!

Written by

Sydney Nolan

Sydney Nolan


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