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Finnish-Americans celebrate Juhannus

June was a busy month for the Finns in the Northland. From June 6-10, the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva shared five wonderful days at their national Grand Lodge Convention in Duluth.

While the meetings, programs and food were great, what we really love and enjoy are the times to visit with Kaleva friends from over the country. This biennial convention gives us a great chance to rejuvenate long-distance friendships, as well as create new ones, and refresh our enthusiasm for "all things Finnish."

Now, we are at the point where most of us consider summer about one-third over. But, technically, summer just started June 21, the day of the summer solstice (or equinox), or what we Finns call "Juhannus" or "midsummer."

Although Juhannus was celebrated June 23 in Finland, Finnish-Americans all over the Northland attended Juhannus celebrations held over a four- to five-day period at various places, such as Sampo Beach in Saginaw, Kaleva Island south of Eveleth, Salolampi near Moorhead and at the Suomalainen Kirkko (old Finnish church) in Kettle River, plus in various other communities and at many homes and cabins.

Juhannus is the main national holiday in Finland. Businesses are closed and the Finnish flag is flown all night long. Juhannus is the celebration of the beginning of summer, of light and the "nightless night" when the sun doesn't go down but for a few short hours in Finland.

The word "Juhannus" originally came from the commemoration of John the Baptist's birthday, which also is celebrated during midsummer.

Most Finns all over the world head to the lake — or river or sea — to celebrate Juhannus. Some like to celebrate peacefully with time to relax, hit the sauna, swim, visit with friends and family and eat good food. Others like to do the same but add "party" to the day's activities, too, with liberal amounts of alcoholic beverages. After all, they don't have to go to work the next day.

Close to midnight, the point of the summer solstice, some Finns take time to light their family's or group's "kokko," or bonfire. Others congregate at the community kokko to watch it being ceremoniously lit and then enjoy the visiting with friends and family.

It's an awesome experience to watch the kokko burn, see the reflections on the lake and revel in the sights and sounds of nature on this long summer's night.

But now we come to July. Juhannus is past and the rest of the summer, with hopefully "perfect" weather, looms ahead of us. While most Finnish groups take a hiatus from meetings during the summer so their members can enjoy their summer vacations, there are still several Finnish events planned that you are invited to attend. Here are a few:

• On Sunday, July 15, the Finnish Americans and Friends (FAF) group will sponsor a concert at Gethsemene Lutheran Church, 901 Fourth St. S., Virginia. The concert, which will begin at 2 p.m., will feature two well-known musicians with local ties, Sara Pajunen and Sam Militich. Sara is an accomplished violinist and Sam is a guitar virtuoso, and their combined talents are simply wonderful. There is no admission charge, but a suggested donation of $10 is requested to help cover costs. Following the concert, all are invited to an ice cream social. Great music, good friends, yummy ice cream — what more could you ask for in a summer event?

• The summer state meeting of the Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society (MFAHS) will be Saturday, Aug. 4, at Sampo Beach on Little Grand Lake in Saginaw. The MFAHS Järvenpää Chapter 1 of Duluth will be the hosts, ready to welcome you with coffee and pulla at 9:30 a.m. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. and will feature guest speaker Jim Kurtti, editor of the Finnish American Reporter. The cost of the meal will be $10. All MFAHS members from around the state are encouraged to attend.

• The Sami Cultural Center of North America and Báiki will sponsor a Lake Superior Sami Gathering on Aug. 10-12 at the Lafayette Community Center, 3026 Minnesota Ave., Duluth. The event will feature programs, movies, crafts, great food and fellowship. Check the Sami Center's website, samiculturalcenter.org, and its Facebook page for upcoming information on registration and event information.

Have a wonderful summer! Get out and enjoy the sun and the rain, too. The days will go by quickly, so take the time to make summer memories.

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