St. Urho’s Legend Lives on for 44th Year
Fictional Hero Celebrated in Finland
DULUTH, Minn.- Not many celebrations can shut down a whole state highway.
But then again, not many celebrations are quite like St. Urho’s Day.
The festival stems from a folktale made in Virginia, MN in the 1950s.
“I think it was the season of like growing grapes and there were like grasshoppers or something,” wondered one St. Urho attendee.
“It’s about grasshoppers and Finland and getting rid of them,” said another, unsure.
He’s the hero of the day, the guest of honor.
But just who is St. Urho?
“St. Urho became a hero,” said Steve Heikkila, who’s been to every St. Urho’s Day for almost 20 years.
Some “village elders” like Heikkila can recount the Finnish tale of St. Urho.
“The grape harvest was infested by grasshoppers and they ate all the grapes,” he said. “So St. Urho comes along, and he’s an older guy with a cane, and he calls out ‘Grasshoppers Grasshoppers, go away!'”
“And they all in this flurry left, and the grapes were saved.”
The origin of St. Urho is said to be a Finnish counterpart to St. Patrick, who was celebrated across the Northland on Sunday.
You may notice some holes in St. Urho’s tale, like how grapes don’t seem like a regular crop in Finland.
“It goes along with Finnish humor, which is always silly and fun,” Heikkila said.
While St. Urho is no longer with us—he really never was—other holiday royalty honor his legacy.
“I am the 2019 Miss Helmi.”
For almost every year there’s been a St. Urho’s Day, there’s been a Miss Helmi.
“Miss” being a relative term–they’re all men in drag.
“This is my first time here for this,” said this year’s winner, Mason Buus.
“This is like nowhere else; it’s really a special place.”
At one point, men and women gather to show their strength, with some Tug ‘o’ War.
Fueled by plenty of alcohol, of course.
Then, the parade starts, filling State Highway 1 with Green and Purple floats and costumes.
The goofiness of the whole affair draws some of these partiers back every year.
“I just really enjoy dressing up for it,” said Sandy Ness, who has accompanied Heikkila for most of the years he’s been coming.
“I like the parade its slow, and it’s steady, and it’s not ostentatious at all.”
St. Urho’s Day may seem like a big, spirited, made up celebration.
But, it has real impacts.
After the big parade, everyone gathers at the Clair Nelson Intermodal Transportation Center, Finland’s Community Center.
“We get money for the rec hall which we have Thursday night, every Thursday from 6–9,” said Madison Sundrick, who sells snow-cones at the Center.
“And then we get to do activities with all that money,” her business partner, McKenzie Krech, said.
“We get to do activities and it’s a great place,” said Sundrick.
Whether or not you believe in St. Urho, or if he even existed, you can’t deny his power to bring a community together.
Happy St. Urho’s Day, everyone.