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Finding Minnesota: St. Urho’s Day

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77654_Mike Binkley WEB Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 ye...
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FINLAND, Minn. (WCCO) – On March 17, people of many backgrounds will claim to be a little Irish as they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. But the day before that, others will toast the Scandinavian saint who was completely made up in Minnesota — St. Urho.

According to his relatively new legend, St. Urho drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the country’s wine crop.

“The Finns, I think, were feeling like the Irish were getting all the fun,” said Honor Schauland, who’s organizing the 38th-annual St. Urho’s Day celebration in Finland, Minn.

The Finns and their friends now get a one day jump-start on the fun with their celebration on March 16.

“It’s another reason to party,” said Gary Morris, an accordion player from Finland who co-wrote “St. Urho’s Polka.”

It was in the 1950s that someone in northern Minnesota came up with the idea of a Nordic saint to counter St. Patrick. Some give credit to a retail worker in Virginia, Minn., named Richard Mattson, while others say Dr. Sulo Havumaki, a psychology professor in Bemidji, was the first to spread the story of St. Urho.

Now, the town of Menahga, Minnesota has a statue of St. Urho holding a pitchfork with a grasshopper impaled on it. Finland has its own statue depicting St. Urho scaring off grasshoppers with his booming voice. “Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, meine taatta hiiten!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away!”) is what he supposedly shouted.

Finland holds one of the more elaborate St. Urho’s Day celebrations in the state. Its annual parade, which draws up to 1,000 people, is the only parade that’s allowed to shut down a state highway –- Highway 1.

The town’s four bars are decked out in purple and green.

“Purple for the grapes and green for the grasshoppers,” said Bonnie Tikkanen, owner of the Four Seasons Supper Club. “St. Urho chased the grasshoppers away from eating the grapes, you know, and we have to keep that tradition up.”

But as much as anything, it’s a chance to finally see friends again. They’ve survived another long winter with their sense of humor still intact.

In the past few decades, St. Urho’s Day celebrations have become traditions in several states, and even parts of Canada. Here in Minnesota, at least four towns will have parades this year: Finland, Finlayson, Menahga and Squaw Lake.

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