upon a time, many many years ago in Finland they say (they being the
geologists and such) there used to be wild grapes growing all over. How do
they know this? From studying the remains of bears found in that
one season a bunch of grasshoppers (i.e. locust) with a voracious
appetite for grapes happen to hop on into Finland. What to do?
our great Finnish Hero, St. Urho! Waving his pitchfork and chanting
"Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, menetaalta hiiten" (which in English
means "Grasshopper grasshopper skoot!") he drove the
grasshoppers out of the vineyards. Now, I'm sure everyone in
Minnesota wished that getting rid of mosquitoes could be that easy.
Finnish grape framers (viners?) were very protective of their fields
because they didn't have much of a growing season. (Note: It isn't exactly
like the Italian or French vineyards up there.) So, rumor has it that they
injected Vodka into their grapes to give them a bigger alcohol
content. I guess this is an early version of "organic
farming" regarding pest control?
so happy and grateful to Urho, they declared him a saint. He
did this on March 16, the day before St. Patrick's Day.
year since then, the Finnish people celebrate St. Urho's Day on March
16. The official colors are purple to represent the grapes and green
to represent the vines (or the dead grasshoppers -- depending on whose
version you hear).
St. Urho's day ceremony begins at sunrise. Women and children go down to
the lakeshore and chant "Heinasirkka, heinasirrkka, meine taatta
hiiteen" just like St. Urho did thousands of years before or
"Grasshopper, Grasshopper getta outta here" if you don't speak
Finnish. (After all it's pretty easy to remember.) The men dress in
green and gather at the top of the hill and then start a procession down
to the lake kicking and waving pitchforks to scare off the imaginary
one is exactly sure when or how, but along the way the men change into
purple clothes. (I assume they use a fashion technique called
"the layered look.") Otherwise, use your imagination on
the wardrobe change! <wink>
celebration also includes singing, dancing polkas and drinking wine, grape
juice for those underage and having Mojakkaa (fish soup pronounced like
"moy-yah-kah") which is what St. Urho ate to give him his
strength to fight grasshoppers.
The city of Menahga,
MN actually has a statue of St. Urho in it's town. (see photo above)
The original statute was carved in 1982 with a chainsaw from 2,000
lb. oak block. Since then, it's been replaced with a fiberglass
replica to deal with the harsh Minnesota weather. This one is 12 feet
tall. There is also one in Finland, Minnesota. That statue is 18 feet
tall, and looks more like a totem pole than a man.
Rolla, N. Dakota holds a St. Urho's Day Parade!
me begin by saying that I am not Finnish nor am I Irish. I am
Italian. So I remain neutral on this St. Urho reality debate.
I might also add, some of my very best friends are Finnish and Irish.
would also like to state that according to the "Holidays and
Anniversaries of the World - Third Edition" by Beth A. Baker on Page
217 they list St. Urho's Day as a U.S. holiday started and sponsored by
the Sauna Society of America, Washington, D.C.
up, I have always heard the Irish say that the Finnish made up St. Urho to
get a day's start on the beer in town. They claim that there really
is no such a person at all, but just an attempt to get at the "green
beer" before the Irish do. :) Although some celebrations have
to Minnesota tradition, St. Urho's Day began in a town called Virginia,
Minnesota which is approximately 90 minutes north of Duluth and located up
in an area called "The Range." This area is known for
having the largest iron ore open pit in the world and for many years has
been a melting pot of immigrants who worked in the iron mines. (Some being
my own relatives I might add.)
one another about their "old country" and their traditions is a
way of life. Sharing different recipes and tall tales is also
common. With this in mind, it is said that St. Urho's Day began as
all began around 1956, technically in another millennium. The verbal
records say that it began at a St. Patrick's Day party in Virginia,
Minnesota where the Irish were bragging about their St. Patrick and how he
drove snakes out of Ireland. Getting sick of all this bragging,
someone named Richard Mattson, who worked at a department store called
Ketola's decided to blow St. Patrick's bravado off calendars by
proclaiming that Finland had a wonderful saint who got rid of poisonous
the night went on, and the booze got drunk, they decided to try to come up
with a name for this great saint. Hmmm? Saint Eero or Saint
Jussi didn't have any ring. Suddenly Saint Urho seemed just right!
McCavic (who worked at the same dept. store) wrote a funny ode (see
below) to a Finnish boy named Urho who got enormous strength from
eating fish soup and sour milk. So some say that he is the
originator of St. Urho. Or...
claim that Dr. Sulo Havumaki, a psychology teacher at Bemidji College
(Bemidji, MN) is the one who created the St. Urho who chanted and drove
the huge swarm of grasshoppers into the sea. The Finnish version of a
piped piper as others put it.
in 1956 the President of Finland was Urho Kekkonen. (Urho is a
common name in Finland. ) Many believe that the name of St. Urho was taken
from him, he even may have been the force who encouraged the spread and
celebration of St. Urho's Day?
of which version you choose to believe, most credit Richard L. Mattson,
the manager of Ketola's Dept. Store as the originator of St. Urho's
Day. Mr. Mattson died on June 5, 2001, shortly before his 88th
birthday. He managed Ketola's Dept. Store for 42 years.
has it those who celebrate don't really care if St. Urho is made up or
real. It gives the Finnish and the Irish (and all others who celebrate) an
excuse for a 2-day party. With the long, cold Minnesota winters, it works
the grasshoppers, well they have "no comment."