Finnish traditions to take center stage on March 16

By Tucker Henderson


It’s that time of year again, when local residents can eat purple doughnuts, hear David Witikko’s Ode, and see Finns congregate around the idea of St. Urho, who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland.

Now, many might tell people that St. Urho is a hero, while others say that he is a fraud, but the real truth of the matter is that St. Urho is the patron saint of the Finnish-Americans.

St. Urho represents the unity and sense of humor of Finnish-America and provides a day where their heritage can be celebrated with pride and perhaps a bit of silliness.

The saint was created in the spring of 1956 when Richard Mattson, an employee at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minn., was asked why there was not Finnish saint, as compared with the Irish St. Patrick. Mattson created the fable to rival the Irish’s myth and originally placed the Saint’s Day on May 24. The date was later moved to March 16, immediately preceding St. Patrick’s Day, as another way to promote the celebration day.

The legend of Urho has grown over the decades, including the fabrication of the incantation, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” which in Finnish means, “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go from here to hell!” This was allegedly what St. Urho shouted to the infestation of the grasshoppers (changed from the original legend of frogs) who were decimating the Finnish grape crop. Despite the absence of grape plants in Finland, the story lives on and in the past few decades, a declaration was made about Urho’s untimely death.

St. Urho is said to have died here in Otter Tail County, while on a good-will mission in the United States. He passed away at the grounds of Finn Creek Museum, south of New York Mills, and is buried there. The movement of the creek is said to show Urho’s spirit as it winds its way across Deer Creek Township.

Although the legend of St. Urho is sometimes seen as unintelligent and foolish by some modern-day native-born Finns, often claiming that the creation of such a myth is ridiculous, Urho is an important part of Finnish-American culture and functions as a uniting event between them and is widely celebrated in Finnish-American communities across North America. Finland’s true patron saint is St. Henrik, who must have also been larger than life as his existence is disputed by experts.

Finn Creek Museum will be hosting the annual purple doughnut day on March 16 from 9-11 a.m. Conversation will be shared over coffee and doughnuts and Witikko’s annual Ode to St. Urho will fill the room as he performs with his traditional vaiski and pitchfork.