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Finn News: Virginia man credited with creating ‘St. Urho’s Day’

Two Finland 100 committees, in the Duluth and Iron Range areas, are planning activities and events to honor Finland's 100th Anniversary throughout 2017, and Finns all over northeastern Minnesota are excitedly talking about these celebrations and events. This excitement is about as "contagious" as the many flu bugs shared across the Northland!

To find out about special and regular Finnish activities throughout the Northland, the state and beyond, check out the Facebook pages of Finland 100 Northland and Finland 100 Minnesota. You will also find a wealth of information about Finland's 100th anniversary as well as Finnish customs, culture, history, food, people and music.

March brings a special celebration in honor of St. Urho, the "legendary" patron saint of Finland. He's "legendary" because many in Finland have never heard of St. Urho!

The creation of St. Urho has been generally credited to Richard Mattson of Virginia, Minn. In 1956, Mattson, who worked at Virginia's Ketola's Department Store, conjured up a Finnish tale similar to St. Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland. Mattson's saint, however, drove a plague of frogs from Finland, and his name — St. Urho — probably came from the president of Finland (at that time), Urho Kekkonen, who was called St. Urho by the Finns. In addition, St. Urho was also a more "saintly" name, it was felt, than St. Jussi or Toivo or Eino.

Several years later, and with help from Mattson, Gene McCavic took the St. Urho legend and wrote the "Ode to St. Urho" about a "poika" (boy) name Urho who grew strong on "feelia sour" (sour whole milk) and "kala mojakka" (fish soup). The original poem had Urho chasing out "tose 'rogs" (those frogs) on the "twenty-fourth of May." A newer version of the story has Urho chasing "tose pugs of green" (those bugs of green), "ta hoppers as pig as pirds" (the hoppers as big as birds), on the "Sixteenth of March, St. Urho's Tay." (In case you are interested, the original poem was written on a piece of wrapping paper and is on display at the Ironworld Discovery Center in Chisholm.)

Since then, the legend of St. Urho has spread to Finnish communities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Canada, the upper New England states, etc. Wherever there are people of Finnish descent, you can probably find celebrations of St. Urho, the "braffest Finn I effer seen."

To really celebrate St. Urho's Day, head up the North Shore for the 2017 St. Urho's Day festival March 17-19 at the Clair Nelson Community Center in Finland, Minn. This year's theme is "Urhopalooza: Three Days of Grasshoppers and Grapes," and this 42nd annual celebration will be a music festival with all kinds of dancing, friends, fun and excitement! Get ready for surprise musical performances of all sorts, even dueling accordions! For more information, check out their Facebook page (St Urho's Celebration in Finland, MN).

Are you getting tired of winter, of snow and ice, rain and cold? Here are some other Finnish events and activities planned for upcoming weeks.

Get out for an uplifting, foot-stomping, music-winging time at the Monroe Crossing Concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Kaleva Hall, 125 3rd St., Virginia. Sponsored by the Knights of Kaleva Pohjolaisen Maja #25 of Virginia, tickets for this Bluegrass and Gospel Concert are $17 each and can be purchased at Irma's Finland House, Schmitt Music, or Natural Harvest Co-op.

The Finnish Americans and Friends (Finlandia Foundation Hibbing Chapter) will hold their next meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, at the Tourist Center Senior Citizens, 1202 E. Howard St., Hibbing. The meeting will start with a program, include discussion of business and Finland 100 events, and end with coffee and refreshments. Anyone interested in Finland is encouraged to attend.

After a winter break, the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva Pohjolaisen Maja #25 and Soinnuttaren Tupa #32, Virginia, will once again meet at Kaleva Hall, 125 3rd St. in Virginia. Their regular monthly meeting will be held Thursday, March 9, and a short meeting and program will be held Thursday, March 23. If you are interested in joining or learning more about the group, you are welcome to attend both.

The Ladies of Kaleva Aallottaren Tupa #15, Duluth, will meet Monday, March 13, at Kenwood Lutheran Church, 2720 Myers Ave., Duluth. The meeting will start with a special Finnish history movie at 5 p.m., followed by a short business meeting, coffee, and the Sampo Beach Association annual meeting at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

The Ladies of Kaleva Vellamon Tupa #4, Ely, will continue to work on plans for Finland's 100th Anniversary events during their monthly meeting Tuesday, March 28. They are excited to share information about upcoming events planned with the Ely Folk School and the Finland 100 committee. For more information, contact Sally at 218-365-3928.

The Ely community also encourages people to visit the Finnish-American displays at the Ely-Winton Historical Society Museum, located at Vermilion Community College. You can see a Finnish poika talo and an Americanization classroom, learn about the immigrants who arrived in Ely many years ago, investigate life in the logging camps and iron ore mines, and check out the new sauna display. Winter hours are from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with extended hours and days during the summer months. Call 218-365-3928 for more.

This year of 2017 will be full of lots of special events and activities celebrating Finland's 100th anniversary, the biggest celebration in Finland's history! Find out more in upcoming Finn News columns.

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