Being half Finnish on my mother’s side has connected me to some very unique traditions, as has being a native Minnesotan. Saying “Ya, you betcha” with the correct accent comes quite easily, as does using the proper Finnish pronunciation for the town of Cokato. The thing about Finns is they have a reputation for being both a magical race as well as being a little crazy. The Sauna (pronounced “Sow-nah”) is a Finnish tradition I grew up with, but I don’t ever remember celebrating St. Urho’s day as a kid.
This holiday was dreamed up in Northern Minnesota by Finnish Americans in the 1950’s, and it’s an inspiration to me because it is still being celebrated today not only in the US but in Finland as well. Creating a story in order to give Minnesota Finns a fun holiday was a work of quirky genius, and other people of like mind are carrying the torch.
The St. Urho legend is over 50 years old, growing from humble roots in northern Minnesota. It’s unclear whether the story began in Virginia, MN, with Richard Mattson, or Bemidji, MN, by Sulo Havumaki, but since the Library of Congress lists them both, we’re not planning to take sides.
As the legend goes, St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the country’s grape harvest – and thus its wine crop. While this may have striking similarities to the story of an Irish saint who shall remain nameless, it’s clearly superior in a few key ways:
- St. Urho’s Day is celebrated on March 16th – before, and therefore superior to, anything that one might celebrate on March 17th.
- St. Urho saved grapes, ensuring abundance of wine. What could be more important to celebrate than wine? I mean really.
- St. Urho’s colors are royal purple and nile green – two colors, not one. Take that.
To celebrate St. Urho’s Day, Finnish-American towns hold parades, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, cribbage tournaments, and all sorts of other celebrations. Attendees are decked out in purple and green, surrounded by images of grasshoppers and grapes.
Since the 1950s, the legend has grown beyond Minnesota and is now celebrated in many Finnish communities throughout the United States and Canada. In recent years, the legend has even hopped the pond and has started a following in Finland itself.
This is clear evidence of a created myth in order to boost cultural identity. Who knows how many of the old myths started out as a lark, carried on through the years and their origin lost? I love the color choices as they are my favorites, and my Studio is in purple and green.
In just a few days my Spring Break will begin and I intend to spend most of it in the studio. I plan to give a video tour for those of you who might be interested, and posting it here next week. Until then, happy St. Urho’s Day!