St. Urho’s Day is one of those legends that has a blurry origin story. If you live in Minnesota you might have heard rumblings about a man who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland. He protected the precious grape crop with his loud booming voice. The myth, originated in Minnesota in the 1950s, created a national holiday, St. Urho’s Day, and spread across the country. But what once was a quirky cultural tradition has diminished in its popularity. So we are here to ask, where oh where has St. Urho gone?
Friend of Ingebretsen’s and local Finn, Brenda Oseland, explains the holiday this way:
“The statue of St. Urho is in Menahga, Minnesota. As a person of 100% Finnish ancestry, I remember my father sharing the legend. St. Urho is the patron saint who chased grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the grapes and assuring a good wine harvest. It just so happens to be celebrated yearly on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. I annually wear the horrific color combination of purple and green, to celebrate the victory over the hoppers. It is said that revered WCCO and KSTP radio personality Steve Cannan (who grew up among the Finns on the Iron Ranger) may have had some hand in embellishing and spreading the story of St. Urho. Coincidentally sharing a name with former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen, St. Urho is the harbinger of spring and the reason for partying for the normally stoic Finns!”
How did this story start?
According to the St. Urho official website, Richard Mattson created St. Urho while working at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota. Inspired by St. Patrick’s Day, Mattson created this Finnish counterpart in spring 1956, driving out frogs instead of snakes. The Mesabi Tribunes quotes Mattson, “Winters are long and cold in Virginia, Minnesota, on the Iron Range. Gene McCavic, a co-worker at Ketola’s, chided me in 1953 that the Finns did not have saints like St. Patrick… So I fabricated a story.” McCavic wrote an ode to go along with the story The name “Urho” supposedly came from the president of Finland in 1956, Urho Kekkonen. It’s said that some Finns even called him “Saint Urho.”
Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College, was also credited with originating the myth. He is said to have changed the frogs to grasshoppers and had the saint chanting the creatures into the sea.
The legend spread through Finnish communities and even to Finland (there’s a St. Urho’s Pub in Helsinki). But nowhere was the holiday as popular as in Minnesota, where songs were written and parades are thrown.
In 1975, Governor Wendell Anderson declared Minnesota the official home of St. Urho, and this is where the tradition lives on. Friends of Finland, MN has taken up the annual celebration, in its 47th year this year. This weekend of events includes an auction, talent show, live music, food and more (don’t forget the parade). This year’s theme is “St. Urho Flies the Coop,” so maybe he really is missing! Menahga also hosts “St. Urho Days” and both Minnesotan festivals will be the weekend of the 12th and 13th.
Despite the decline in St. Urho celebrations around the country, Ingebretsen’s will continue to honor this Finnish saint and all he represents: perseverance, inner-strength (sisu), and an appreciation for wine! Will you join us in helping to honor this Minnesotan tradition?
Ways you can celebrate St. Urho’s Day (no matter where you are):
- Wear green or purple – both is better!
- If you can, attend a local celebration like the one in Finland or Menahga; they have events for everyone, like pageants, concerts, games and food
- Don your favorite commemorative button or sticker on March 16th
- Celebrate with a favorite beverage, and toast to Saint Urho
- Eat Finnish fish soup, to become strong and hearty like this patron saint
- Learn one of the many songs, odes, or ballads written about St. Urho’s Day
See our version of the St. Urho Polka here.