15 March 2011

Happy St. Urho’s Day

When I first started working for Midland Cooperatives, we sold groceries to many independent food co-ops on Minnesota’s Iron Range. A lot of those co-ops were founded by Finnish immigrants. (Part of the lore of the co-op paper was that during a period of labor unrest on the Iron Range, 1930s if I recall, communist activists tried to take over the paper, presumably to use it for propaganda. Gus Hall, who was the leader of the Communist Party of the USA was born on the Iron Range. I never met him, but his name was occasionally invoked with awe and a little fear.)

One of the fortunate coincidences of my name is that it sort of resembles a Finnish name. Just throw in a few extra ‘k’s and ‘i’s, and and I could pass for a Finn. When I did interviews for the paper, I was sort of accepted as ‘one of their own.’ And when they found out I wasn’t really Finnish (I never tried to pretend), they never held it against me.photo

It was in that context that I came to learn about St. Urho (he has a Facebook page, you know) and St. Urho’s Day, celebrated on March 16. According to the legend, St. Urho saved the people’s vineyards by banishing the grasshoppers from Finland. "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" he commanded. The day was commemorated by wearing purple (color of wine, I suppose).

Now some cynics claimed that St. Urho was invented by Finns in order to preempt the celebration of St. Patrick’s day on March 17. For my part, I had a purple tie that I used to wear on St. Urho’s Day.

Actually, I still have the tie, though I don’t wear it anymore.

No comments: