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Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
present

St. Urho

The Finnish Saint of the Grasshopper.
(Urho is pronounced like "Errrrh-hoe" with a long trill of the R to represent his strength!)

Is it true? If so, why and how did this holiday get started?

March 16 is St. Urho's Day
 Traditional Colors:
Deep Purple and Emerald Green

Fact or Fiction?

                    

TRADITIONAL STORY

Once 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 area.  

Well, one season a bunch of grasshoppers (i.e. locust)  with a voracious appetite for grapes happen to hop on into Finland.  What to do? 

Enter 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.  :)

The 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?

Feeling so happy and grateful to Urho, they declared him a saint. He did this on March 16, the day before St. Patrick's Day. 

Every 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).

The 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 grasshoppers.

No 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>

The 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.

MODERN VERSION

Let 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.

I 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.

Growing 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 purple beer.

According 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.)

Teasing 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 such:

It 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 frogs.

As 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!

Gene 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...

Others 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.

Coincidentally, 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? 

Regardless 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.

(Rumor 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 for them!)

And the grasshoppers, well they have "no comment."

 

Sinikka, St. Urho's Wife, the real hero?
(Long Ballad Poem)

Heinasirka, heinasirka, mena taalta heiteen!
So all the praise has been going to the boys again!
For many years Sinikka’s spirit has been watching all these doings;
Urho getting all the glory, and Sinikka, lying unknown in dark ruins.
But now, up from the grave, the spirit of Sinikka has risen!
“You know, Urho and I did things together, like a team of oxen!”
Many people thought that St. Urho wasn’t married and needed a wife,
But he was married to the shy young maiden, Sinikka, the love of his life!
And “So, what,” you ask, “did that Sinikka, St. Urho’s wife do?”
Why Sinikka did all those things that Urho didn’t have the time to!
It’s said Urho chased out all them grasshoppers, almost big as pigs,
To save the vines and grapes in the land where all the Finns live.
Then while Urho was out getting all the honors, many thought him due,
Sinikka was at home tending the vines where those grapes, big as figs, grew!
And when they were ripened, Sinikka would call all their twelve kids,
To carefully pick off those vines those purple grapes, big as figs!
Then Sinikka would heat up the sauna fire, so it was good and hot,
And threw in the twelve children, bare naked, all in one lot!
Sinikka scrubbed them all clean from their heads to their toes,
Wiped them down dry, and into the big grape barrel they did go!
“Now, stomp, jump, and play on those purple grapes, big as figs!”
Sinikka told all the twelve children, from the little one to the big!
So much fun they did have, all those happy children at play,
And so much grape juice was ready by the end of the day.
That it was then coming out so fast that Sinikka had to build a dam,
To store the juice ‘til she could make it into jellies and jam!
So you see while Urho was getting his sainthood many thought him due,
Sinikka was at home doing all the chores, which were not just a few!
Sinikka pounded their clothes clean on the shores of the great Spirit Lake,
Sinikka ground up the grain for the loaves of rye bread she baked.
From Sinikka’s garden they dug up vegetables to store in the cellar,
So the family could eat with rye bread, pottuja and mojakka all winter!
Then Sinikka had to reap the bees’ harvest and sell some honey,
To buy the yard goods and shoe leather, as they cost money!
Sinikka then taught the six girls how to sew all the family clothes,
And to trim the skirts and shirts nicely with braids and bows.
Sinikka showed the boys how to cut and stitch all the family shoes,
And keep them in good condition for the whole family to use.
Sinikka milked the cows and made the feelia sour, she gathered the eggs,
and from the sheep’s wool, Sinikka spun and knitted leggings for all of their legs!
So, you see, while St. Urho has been getting all the glory for so many years,
It’s time to honor Sinikka, she stood by him through blood, sweat, and tears!
Goodhearted, kind, and very hardworking was that Sinikka, wife of St. Urho,
And it was said by many that maybe Sinikka was the real sainted hero!

But nobody wanted to honor a woman, though a deserving Finn,
And give sainthood to someone whose name started with “Sin!”

By Priscilla J. Harvala ©10-16-01

 

Ode to St. Urho
By Gene McCavic

Written in Finnish dialect.
(Original located at the Iron World Museum,
Chisholm, Minnesota)

Ooksie kooksie coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as birds
Neffer peefor haff I hurd does words!
He reely told dose pugs of kreen
Braaffest finn I effer seen!
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.
He got tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate culla moyakka effery hour.
Tat's why day guy could sase does peetles
What crew as thick as chack bine needles.
So lets give a cheer in hower pest way
On this 16th of March, St. Urho's Tay!

 


Brownielocks has made MORE St. Urho products for 2014!
A few new designs on cards, t-shirts, mugs, etc.
To see them, click the "NEWEST" option in the Blue Button (it shows Popular.)

 

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