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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 23, 2014

St. Urho — the make-believe hero of Finland

Mar 15, 2013

By STEPH TAHTINEN

Mt. Pleasant News

Julius Caesar was warned to beware the Ides of March (March 15). On March 17, almost everyone claims a little Irish ancestry. Nestled between on March 16 are two holidays that I like to celebrate each year.

To begin with, it’s my mom’s birthday. So happy birthday, Mom! She doesn’t usually like it when I write about her in my column, but I’d feel guilty if I didn’t at least give her a shout-out.

An interesting thing about my mom is that she was born on St. Urho’s Day. If you don’t know who he is — most of the world doesn’t — he’s basically the Finnish equivalent of St. Patrick. So being mostly of Finnish heritage, Mom is pretty proud of this fact.

The interesting thing about St. Urho is that he didn’t actually exist. The story apparently takes place in pre-historic Finland, but both the man and the legend were invented in the 1950s by somebody in Minnesota.

The origin of the legend is a little hazy, as is the legend itself. One version states that Urho chased frogs out of Finland. Another version — the version I always heard growing up and that seems to be more popular — is that the pests in question were extremely large grasshoppers that were destroying the country’s grape crop.

Now, as far as I know, Finland does not have the correct climate to grow grapes, but we must leave room for artistic license when dealing with made-up legends.

Anyway, these grasshoppers were devouring the grape crop, and the people were devastated. Not only were they losing their grapes — which meant there would be no wine — but the grape pickers were watching the source of employment be eaten.

Enter Urho, a rather large, strong boy with a rather loud voice. He went outside and yelled, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!”

According to what I found online, this roughly translates to “Grasshoppers, grasshoppers, go to—” well, let’s just say it’s a place full of fire and brimstone.

Terrified of Urho, the grasshoppers fled. Or flew. Or however it is that grasshoppers get around.

The point is, they left quickly, and the grape crop was saved, along with the employment of the grape pickers. Urho was declared a hero and elevated to sainthood.

Centuries later, Finnish Americans still celebrate his triumph. Note I said Finnish Americans. St. Urho is not really celebrated in Finland, though at least one city in Finland celebrated in 2012, according to what I found online. But Finnish communities in the United States — mostly in the Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan area — wear green and purple and celebrate with parades and statues.

While I won’t be able to find my way to any parades on Saturday, I figure I can keep with tradition and rustle up some green and purple clothing out of my closet.

And if I see any grasshoppers, I’ll be sure to chase them away.

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