Today, as those of Irish descent prepare for their annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Finnish Americans are donning the purple and the green in honor of St. Urho, a patron saint who might be better known if his name was easier to pronounce; not many people can master the rolling of the “r” (Urrrrrrho).
St. Urho is celebrated each March 16 for saving Finland’s grape crop by chasing a plague of grasshoppers out of the country.
This act of heroism occurred in ancient days when Finland’s climate was warmer, vineyards flourished, and grasshoppers were terrified of a man with a pitchfork chanting, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (loosely translated, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”).
The Legend of St. Urho is better known in the U.S. than in Finland, mainly because he was invented in Minnesota in the 1950s. There is a statue of St. Urho in Menahga, Minnesota, where festivities include a mojakka supper and mojakka cook-off (it’s a Finnish beef stew; see link to recipe below), barstool races and a wild Saturday evening Bingo & Meat Raffle at the VFW.
Michigan pays tribute to the legend with a sculpture of a giant grasshopper in the Finnish farming community of Kaleva.
Unlike the widespread celebrations of March 17 when everyone claims to be Irish, St. Urho tributes are low-key and mainly found in pockets of Northern Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Canada, where Finnish-Americans have learned how to pronounce Urho (it involves rolling the “r”).
Salutes to the obscure idol revolve around mojakka suppers, the wearing of that lovely purple and green combo, and raising a glass or several—which also happens to help with the rolling of the “r”, as in Happy St. Urrrrrrho’s Day!
This post first appeared on March 16, 2011
NOTE: Check out the St. Urho’s festivities at StUrho’sDay.com