Legend of St. Urho celebrated March 18-19

St. Urho the Grasshopper Chaser, patron saint of Finnish Americans everywhere, is feted each year on March 16, the day officially recognized as St. Urho's Day in every state of the union.

Changing of the guard
The Nytes of St. Urho perform the changing of the guard each year at the St. Urho statue in Menahga.

St. Urho the Grasshopper Chaser, patron saint of Finnish Americans everywhere, is feted each year on March 16, the day officially recognized as St. Urho's Day in every state of the union.

Back in the mother country, however, the day is rarely acknowledged as a holiday at all, and only by a small percentage of distinctly amused Finlanders.

The reason? Unlike his counterpart Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, St. Urho is entirely fictional. He never existed outside of American folklore.

According to Jean (Rousu) Johnson - a lifelong Detroit Lakes area resident and member of the Metha-Jarvi (in Finnish, "Lakes and Woods") Chapter of the Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society - St. Urho is, in fact, the creation of a Minnesotan.

Back in the 1950s, a certain Bemidji State University professor decided he wanted to "steal a bit of the glory" from St. Patrick's Day revelers by creating a day to celebrate his Finnish heritage.


"That professor's name was Dr. Sulo Havumaki," Johnson says.

A Finlander by birth, Havumaki decided to stage the first St. Urho's Day celebration on March 16 - the day before St. Patrick's Day.

Since that time, the celebration has been embraced by Finnish communities all over the United States, including Menahga, where a large celebration is held each year.

"There's a statue of St. Urho there," Anderson says.

In Menahga, the celebration spreads a couple of days, and includes costume contests, a parade and more. The 11th annual St. Urho Days festival is set for March 18-19.

In Detroit Lakes, the celebration is actually set to take place the weekend before St. Urho's Day, on Sunday, March 13.

While Menahga's celebration includes hordes of Finns running around town with purple and green face paint, purple long johns and purple and green tulle skirts, Detroit Lakes' festivities will be much more low key, Anderson promised.

"Becky Mitchell, executive director of the Becker County Historical Society & Museum, had asked us (the Metha-Jarvi chapter) to host a celebration there," said Anderson, who also volunteers regularly at the museum.


"We had one there back in 2011, and Becky asked us if we could do it again," she added.

From 1 to 3 p.m., people can pop into the Becker County Historical Society Museum at 714 Summit Ave. and "enjoy a nice lunch with some Finnish delicacies," Anderson said.

"We'll also have a program at 1:30 p.m., and some mixer-type games - basically just plain, ridiculous fun, more or less," she added.

"All Finns and friends of Finns are welcome."

Attendees will be encouraged to wear their best purple and green attire - the official colors of St. Urho, Anderson says - but costumes are not required.

Metha-Jarvi hosts some sort of St. Urho 's Day celebration every year, she added, but this will be the first time in several years that it will take place at the museum.

"We've had as few as 10 people and as many as 100 at our celebrations, so we don't really know what to expect," Anderson said. "Hopefully it will be a really fun time."

The legend of St. Urho, as it has evolved through the years, states that this mythically heroic figure drove away the grasshoppers - or frogs, according to another version of the story - from Finland, using the incantation "heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" (loosely translated, "grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!").


"He saved the country's grape crop, and therefore, the wine," Anderson said with a smile.

"If only we could get rid of our mosquitoes so easily."

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