There’s a fine legend, spun mostly of yarn, about the patron saint of Finland. Saint Uhro drove a horde of giant grasshoppers out of Finland, thus saving the country’s vineyards. Saint Uhro had a big mouth, he yelled really, really loud, and the grasshoppers ran away.
Of course, this is all made up. It took Minnesotans to do so. Most people in Finland don’t celebrate the day. Despite the bogus saint’s efforts, there are still grasshoppers in that country, and the nation is too far north to grow grapes. St. Uhro is mainly a figment of the American imagination.
Supposedly, in 1956, employees at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota were shooting the breeze. One employee, Gene McCavick asked his coworker, Richard Mattson why the Finns didn’t have a patron saint like Ireland’s Saint Patrick.
According to the first telling, Urho cast the frogs out of Finland with the power of his voice, he loved to drink sour milk, and eat fish soup. In subsequent tellings, Urho cast out grasshoppers, not frogs.
Finnish vintners were quite protective of their crops because there’s not much of a growing season in Scandinavia, unlike the more famous vineyards of France and Italy. Rumor had it that the Finns injected vodka into the grapes to give them more alcoholic content. The casting out of grasshoppers happened on March the sixteenth. Urho’s mighty scream went like this: “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!.” (Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell).
The commemoration of Saint Urho has spread from Virginia, Minnesota into other Finnish communities in the US and Canada. There are even a few tongue in cheek celebrations in a few bars in Finland.
Saint Urho’s Day is easy to celebrate. Some towns have parades, there are pancake breakfasts, pasta dinners, cribbage tournaments, snowmobile shows, and commercial promotions. The 40th Annual St. Urho Celebration is scheduled in Finland, Minnesota today from 8:00 to noon. There’s a St. Urho’s Day dinner in Donna, Texas. There are more on the calendar in various places. I found one to be celebrated on March 21st in Kotka, Finland.
In Menahga, Minnesota, there’s a giant fiberglass copy of a chainsaw statue of St. Urho. The original is in storage at the Menahga Cemetery. People in Menahga wear purple and green clothing. There will be the selection of Grasshopper Royalty and the planting of Cheerios as donut seeds. Of course there will be plenty of purple beer to drink.
In many towns, there are polka dances and singing. Wine and grape juice are served along with Mojakkaa (fish soup) of the same recipe of that eaten by Saint Urho to gain the strength needed to fight grasshoppers.
There’s a particular irony about Urho being a saint. More than 80-percent of the Finnish-Americans belong to the Lutheran Church. Many Lutherans do not recognize Feasts of Saints. It is thought that Urho’s name came about because the President of Finland, in 1956, was Urho Kekkonen. It could also be, because the word urho, in Finnish, means hero.
Happy Saint Urho’s Day!