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article imageMove over St. Paddy, here comes St. Urho

By Karen Graham     Mar 16, 2014 in Entertainment
It's not just the Irish that throw a parade and a party this time of year. For the past 50 or so years, small towns across northern Minnesota in the U.S. have been celebrating St. Urho's Day, interestingly enough, on the day before St. Patrick's Day.
We all know who Saint Patrick was. The patron saint of Ireland, he supposedly drove the snakes out of his homeland. Saint Urho didn't go to the extremes that Saint Patrick did, but he was a real person. The choosing of the name of the saint had a lot to do with Urho Kekkonen being elected president of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language means hero or simply brave.
St. Urho Day started as a lark, concocted by Richard Mattson, a Finnish-American who worked at Ketola's Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in the spring of 1956. Mattson recounted later that he had invented the saint in response to a co-worker's question about why Finland had no patron saints.
Menagha  Minnesota welcomes visitors with totem with a big mouth.
Menagha, Minnesota welcomes visitors with totem with a big mouth.
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The original story goes something like this: There was a boy who lived long ago in Finland. Its said he grew big and strong by drinking sour milk, (feelia sour), and fish soup (kala mojakka), because that's what Finns ate back in those days. Young Urho grew big and strong on this wholesome diet, and soon became known around the countryside for his big, booming voice.
According to the original Ode to Saint Urho, written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, there came a plague of frogs, apparently chasing the fish away and causing the milk to stay fresh in the pitcher. Everyone in the countryside was terribly upset, not knowing what to do. Urhu was so upset at seeing all the frogs hopping around the fields, he cried out in his loudest voice, saying, "Be gone Rogs." (Rogs is Finnish for frogs). In this tale, St. Urho Day is on May 24. It was later changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick's Day, and the ode was changed accordingly.
Ode to Saint Urho
Ooksi kooksi coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds.
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!
He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen
Braffest Finn I effer seen
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.
He kot tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat's why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.
So let's give a cheer in hower pest vay
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho's Tay.
Of course, an even better story about this Finnish saint has him driving the grasshoppers out of Finland, thus saving the wild grape vines. His bravery in shouting down the chirps from the grasshoppers and scaring them away, allowed the vineyard workers to keep their jobs and ensured there would continue to be enough grapes to make wine. Urho did this by shouting, "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen" (roughly translated: "Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!").
Help! Grasshoppers are destroying our grapes!
Help! Grasshoppers are destroying our grapes!
YouTube
Just about everyone accepts the grasshopper story as being the real tale, and March 16, as St. Urho Day. The day has been recognized with proclamations in all 50 states. Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson went so far as to issue a proclamation in his state, the unofficial home of Saint Urho, in 1975. St. Urho Day is also celebrated in Canada, Finland, and everywhere people of Finnish descent reside. So, wear some green, and raise a glass of wine to a true Finnish hero, St. Urho.
More about saint patricks day, Saint Urho, Finland, grasshoppers, Minnesota
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