Celebrate Helsinki

Celebration brings people together and breaks the normal flow of everyday life. Celebration provides an opportunity to do not only ordinary, but extraordinary things as well. 

During these special days people come together physically in public and private spaces in parks, on the streets, in bars and restaurants and socially: spending time with friends, family, communicating and sharing feelings. In other words, physical space meets social space.

Nowadays one platform for sociality is social media, where people share their experiences. Smartphones have become a new part of our body: a second brain where we store data or an extension to our eyesight, when we can take photographs of anything and everything we see and share it instantaneously. This has lead to a new way of reacting to life events: your private, everyday life becomes public by your own choice in social media.

The data shared on Instagram during celebration is a way to map the “invisible” city and see the connections between the city and celebration. How is public and private space used during the celebration and what activities take place in each? Helsinki speaks out about celebration practices through the Instagram data.

Celebrate Helsinki is a study of the ways public and private space are presented in urban surroundings during three different holidays: Vappu, 1st of May, Juhannus – Midsummer and Uusi vuosi – New Year. We studied Instagram-pictures from these three holidays and compared them with control periods. These control periods were normal weekends close to the celebration. They were chosen because the represented the same time of the year (spring, summer or winter).The pictures were collected from years 2014-2015. We used the pictures, their geographic coordinates and the date and time when they were shot.

In our study, the social media data from Instagram is a way of gaining access, grasping these new contemporary aspects of urban public life and its informal, casual aspects. Instagram is a place for (at least young people) to share their experiences with their friends and followers, to represent their identities and connect with people. In this sense it provides insights into their lifestyles and sociality (Manovich 2016, 24) and gives us a view of how the city is experienced and what kind of cultural practices take place during different celebrations.

Why study celebration?

Celebration, as well as other social activities performed in public space, reinforces the collective consciousness of the place and the people (Kanekar 1989, 17). A social gathering or other celebrative actions on a special day is an important aspect of the collective memory and the built form.

Our focus on the interplay between public and private spaces stems from the notion that spending time in a public place creates a connection to that space. This in turn might create a better engagement between the citizens and the city. The sense of place attachment  and the quality of socio-spatial environment influence the citizen’s ability and willingness to contribute to local, collective endeavours (Kearns 1985, 157).

This means that firstly studying celebration practices in Helsinki might reveal new aspects of the city: public celebrations in Helsinki could bring forth collectively meaningful places. Secondly, combining this viewpoint with studying private places provides a rare window to see what happens in people’s homes and whether these celebration practices differ from public celebration.
Looking into private space and people’s activities can reveal unfulfilled needs and niches for products and services there, while analysis of celebration in public spaces helps to understand the current situation of public space in this regard as well as how to develop it in the future.

This comparison could reveal opportunities to improve public spaces for celebration. Enhancing the affective relationship between the city and its inhabitants creates a better city for everyone.

Understanding public and private space

Traditionally, public space has been understood as a place for citizens to gather in the city in an ideally civil manner (Koch & Latham 2012, 515). Public space has been entwined with notions of developing deliberative capacities and identities, a collective space where multiple self-concers transform into a recognized common interest (see for example Arendt 1958). Connected to this, private space has been seen as a safe haven, a place where one can shelter oneself agains the world: the sphere of home and family.

However, lately there has been a call for a broader understanding of public space: major developments in technology and communication, for example the emergence of telelevision and internet, have meant that public space is no longer the only platform for people to share their views and hear those of others.

According to Regan Koch and Alan Latham, these classic concepts of public space may be resticting our ability to make sense of what is actually going on in much of contemporary urban life (Koch & Lathamn 2012, 515). Instead, they propose that it would be advantageous to understand how public spaces are made through emergent patterns of use in many and variegated ways.

This would help us understand public space in a way that doesn’t just focus on, for example, questions of exclusion.(Koch & Latham 2012, 521.) The development of social media has also meant that the boundaries between private and public become blurred in a new way: suddenly you can take a picture of your home and share it with the world or at least your followers.

Our approach also takes into account the entanglement of technology, materiality and social: the pictures analysed only exist because of technological achievements (phones with good cameras and internet connections) and the whole logic of Instagram relies on people wanting to share some aspects of their life with others. The pictures are also always taken in certain surroundings, by people interacting with each other as well as the materials, objects and infrastructure around them.

Celebration case studies: Vappu, Midsummer, New Year


Vappu — the first celebration of the forthcoming summer days. Vappu is a national holiday on the 1st of May — the Finnish labor day — but it is also celebrated by students. The carneval-like celebration is known for its effect on people: no matter the weather, the day is celebrated with a traditional picnic, sparkling wine and by going to the vappu-markets.

Both indoor and outdoor pictures have their strongest concentrations in the downtown area. Additionally, clustering in the Aalto University campus in Otaniemi and in the Kallio and Töölö districts are visible in both visualizations of public outdoors and public or private indoors posts.
Pictures taken in public outdoor locations cluster strongly also in the vicinity of the Kaivopuisto park south of the commercial center areas – a popular location for 1st of May picnics and social gatherings.

Instagram posts over Vappu Eve and Day 2015 – posts located in public outdoor locations
Instagram posts over Vappu Eve and Day 2015 – posts located in public or private indoor locations

What happens during Vappu?

During Vappu, we anticipated a predominance in images showing people socialising outside which has been proven true in our data. The share of pictures taken in public indoor spaces such as cafés, bars and gyms decreases considerably compared to the control group. This proves that Vappu indeed is the first occasion after a long winter to spend time outside — even if it might snow.

As with other event days, there is a tendency for people to socialize more in private indoor spaces than public indoor spaces when compared to non event days. A considerable share of the private indoor pictures were tagged as events, signifying private parties held in private homes. Also, the share of food-related pictures taken in private indoor spaces increases and the food pictures taken in public indoor spaces decreased compared to the control group. In the control group the largest share of food pictures were taken in public indoor spaces, most likely in restaurants.

As one might expect, the share of pictures tagged as Exercise & Wellbeing during Vappu decreased significantly. In the control group the share of Exercise & Wellbeing in the activities category is the third largest.
Following Instagram photos, people concentrate more on social activities than on personal care during holidays.

Vappu, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)
Vappu control, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)

Gender differences in the use of space during social activities

There are differences between genders on what kind of a space people choose while engaging in social activities. The vast proportion of photos including taken indoor and in private during Vappu tend show women. Photos showing mostly women represented more than half of the social images taken indoors during Vappu. On the other hand, the amount of pictures that show predominantly women or mixed groups decreased in public indoor spaces — in contrast to males carrying out social activities in these public indoor spaces nearly equally compared to non-holiday dates.

There is no particular trend in terms of there being more mixed gender images during this period with a slight increase in mixed images shown outdoors and inside private, however with a decrease of mixed images in indoor public pictures.

Juhannus – Midsummer

Juhannus — the celebration of midnight sun and light.  In the past Juhannus was traditionally celebrated in the countryside and summer cottages, near to nature and far from people. The tradition of closeness to the nature still carries on in urban context in the form of bonfires, flower crowns and swimming naked.

Over Midsummer, Instagram posts located in public or private indoor locations are clustered in the downtown area and the busiest commercial areas around the Helsinki Main Railway Station. Posts picturing public outdoor settings, on the other hand, are scattered over a larger geographical area. Heatmap visualization of oudoor pictures highlights such locations as the island of Seurasaari with its outdoor events and Midsummer’s Eve bonfires as well as other seaside and public green space locations.

Instagram posts over Midsummer’s Eve and Day 2015 – posts located in public outdoor locations
Instagram posts over Midsummer’s Eve and Day 2015 – posts located in public or private indoor locations

What happens during Midsummer?

Whilst expected that the number of outdoor images would be highest during the Midsummer period, the difference between indoor public and indoor private photos taken during midsummer was a new finding from the data. The share of pictures tagged as Social activity in private spaces increased compared to the control group, meaning that more pictures were taken of social activities in private spaces. This follows the common trend of all event days throughout our entire analysis. Also, the amount of events in private indoor spaces increases as there are almost none in the control group.

Most of the pictures during Midsummer and in the control group were taken in public outdoor spaces. This can be explained with the season: people tend to spend more time outside in the summer. Taking it into account, we may assume that this holiday day is just an occasion to spend time outside, which supports behavior habitual for this time of year.

Midsummer, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)
Midsummer control, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)

Gender differences in the use of private and public space

As already anticipated, women alone tend to appear more frequently than men alone in images.
When undertaking social activities, the new information we gained from this data set is that women appear particularly more often in images taken indoors and in private, whilst men appear more on event days in indoor public places.

Furthermore, overall more gender equal images appear across all three locations showing that there is a greater tendency for people to celebrate events in mixed groups.

Uusi vuosi – New Year

New year — the time to start everything afresh. The celebration of the past and the new upcoming year usually entails fireworks, sparkling wine, predictions for the New Year and of course — New Years resolutions.

A freezing contrast to the  Midsummer and Vappu celebrations, social life over New Year’s Eve and Day shows a strong concentration in the downtown commercial areas, or more accurately, a lack of concentration in other locations. Instagram pictures located in public outdoor areas cluster strongly only in the city center, while pictures located in public and private indoor locations show also minor clusters in the district of Kallio north of the city center and in the vicinity of the West Harbour Ferry Terminal.

However, these observations should be interpreted only as indicators of clustered activities. Analysis of the pictures indicates that a considerable share of social activities shared in Instagram take place in private indoor locations that have scattered widely over the whole city area.

Instagram posts over New Years Eve and Day 2014/2015 – posts located in public outdoor locations
Instagram posts over New Year’s Eve and Day 2014/2015 – posts located in public or private indoor locations

What happens during New Year?

New Year as anticipated shows a higher number of images of people socialising indoors opposed to outdoors. Celebration in private indoor spaces increases drastically during the holiday. On the basis of the Instagram photos, people tend to show off, at the same time offering us access to view their private spaces and lives during the celebration days.
There is also a tendency, that the number of outdoor pictures tagged with leisure and, for example, spending time with children outside, decreases: people pay more attention to indoor social activities.
New Year shows the strongest tendency towards people celebrating more indoors in private than indoors in public spaces than the other two holidays and also when compared with a non event day.

Compared to Midsummers and Vappus most tagged activities, the main difference is the great share of pictures tagged as Public or private event during New Year. With the other holidays, the most used tags were Social activity and Leisure activity. The share of public and private events is greater also in the control group compared to Vappu and Midsummer (both holidays and control groups).

Based on this we can assume that people tend to celebrate and spend time indoor, helding events during this time of the year. On the other hand, pictures of food are not shared as much.

Through our perspective, this means that people pay attention to social activities, than to overview of space around.

New Year, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)
New Year control, activities in public outdoor and indoor spaces and private indoor spaces (only images with "outdoor" or "indoor" are included)

Gender differences in the use of public and private space

In regards to gender we can again see that women make up the largest portion of images shown of people socialising across all spaces during non event days. On new years days we see as with both other holidays a marked increase in the number of photos taken by women indoors in private, whilst we see a slight increase in the proportion of men socialising indoors in public spaces. In terms of mixed gender these images retain a relatively stable share between New years and the non event day.


Portraits of holidays

Although all holidays have common festive features, each holiday has it’s own distinctive image appearing through the indoor and outdoor Instagram posts and posted content of photos.


The main feature of Vappu is a social aspect: people appear in large gatherings on a certain amount of photos. Democratic nature of the celebration indicates consumption of low and middle-priced sparkling vines, still vines, craft and regular beer, shown on Instagram photos during celebration days.


The overall image of this celebration is more casual than special: difference between in indoor and outdoor posts is not dramatic. Сommonness of this celebration is underlined by consumption of regular beer, according to Instagram posts.

New Year

is associated mostly with celebration in private indoor spaces and gatherings together with friends. Speciality of this celebration underlines show-off consumption of fancy sparkling vine

Social trend

In all three holiday cases we see a trend towards socialising on these holidays in private indoor space, when compared to non event days. This trend is most evident across New Year given the tendency for people to spend New Year indoors. In a way private spaces become more meaningful during holidays — they are photographed more. The amount of food pictures in private spaces (home made food at home) and socialising increase during the holidays and at the same time food pictures taken in public indoor spaces (restaurants) decreases. Also the amount of events in private indoor spaces increases during holidays, meaning that people held parties in their home. Celebration seems to locate to private indoor spaces and public outdoor places.
Most pictures including people, both individuals and social groups, were posted during Vappu.

Main activities during holidays

Although control dates for Vappu and New Year show rather high activity in indoor public places, the most occurring activities didn’t have major differences between the holidays and comparison dates. The most common activity categories were Social activities, Leisure activities and Public or private events. These three categories increased in volume during holidays. Categories Excersise and wellbeing and Other decreased in volume during holidays.

Geographical distribution of Instagram posts related to holidays

Instagram posts located outdoor were most scattered during Midsummer, covering a large geographical area with a few highlighted locations on the seaside and public green areas. During Vappu the public outdoor locations cluster strongly near the Kaivopuisto park — a popular picnic-area. On New Year the public outdoor pictures cluster strongly only in the city center.

Both Vappu and Midsummer Instagram posts located in indoor locations are clustered in the downtown area. During Vappu there is additional clustering at university campuses and the city districts Kallio and Töölö. On New Year social life concentrates strongly in the downtown commercial areas. However, a considerable share of social activities during New Year take place in private indoor locations that have scattered widely over the city area.

Gender tendencies through holidays

Furthermore due to the high number of female users of the platform we are able to best analyse female behaviour in the city and how this impacts the overall use of public spaces during these periods.  A difference in the usage of public and private space between genders can be noticed:
our research revealed that females tended to socialise more in private indoor spaces, when compared to males who tend to be photographed socialising in public indoor spaces, such as bars. Overall there is a greater tendency for people to celebrate in mixed groups: more gender equal imaged appear across all three.

Different activities during each holiday

Celebrate Helsinki team

Anna Kajosaari
Pauliina Kivineva
Outi Koskinen
Stephanie Patterson
Evgenia Korotchenko