Monday, March 21, 2011


   The legend of St. Urho originated in Northern Minnesota in the 1950's.  However, there are differing opinions as to whether it began with the fables created by Sulo Hvumaki of Bemidji, or the tales told by Richard Mattson of Virginia.  Either way, the legend has grown among North American of Finnish descent to the point where St. Urho is know celebrated across the United States and Canada, and even in Finland.
   St. Urho's Day is celebrated on March 16th, the day prior to the better known feast of some minor saint from Ireland, who was alleged to have driven the snakes from that island.
   The legend of St. Urho say he chased the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, thus saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers.  He did this by utter the phrase : "Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, men taaita hiteen"! ( roughly translated: " Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell"!).  His feast is celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green.  St. Urho is nearly always represented with grapes and grasshoppers as part of the picture.

The Origin of St. Uhro

   The legend of St. Urho, is not the product of one person, but of many.  The original character is usually traced to Virginia, MInnesota, but like most good legends, there have been many voices in creating the history of S. Urho.
   St. Urho was created by Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola's Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota.  Mattson is generally creadited with conjuring up a Finnish courterpart to St. Patrick in the spring of 1956.  Just as Patrick had driven the snakes from Ireland, Mattson's saint drove a plague of frogs from Finland.  There were several Finnish names suggested, but Saint Ero or Saint Jussi, or even Toivo or Eino, just didn't have the correct ring of a saint name.  Urho Kekkonen became president of Finland in 1956, and some believe that is where the came came from.  Others say that Kekkonen was called "Saint Urho" by the citizens of Finland, and the name was attached to Mattson's legend.

   Gene McCavic took the St. Urho legend and, with help form Mattson, wrote an "Ode to St. Urho".  It told of a boy ("poika", Finnish for "boy") named Urho who got strong on sour whole milk ("feelia sour") and fish soup ("kala mojakka").  In the original, Urho chases out "tose Rogs" (those frogs) with his loud voice.  The original Ode also celebrates St. Urho's Day as "twenty-fourth of May".  The original poem was written on a piece of wrapping paper, and is on display at Ironworld Discovery Center in Chisolm, Minnesota.
   The legend spread, originally across Minnesota to Finnish settlements on the Mesabi Iron Range, and to Menahoga, New York Mills, Wolf Lake, and of course, Finland.  St. Urho's Day is now celebrated in towns with Finnish heritage, across Michigan's Upper Peninsula;  Thunder Bay, Ontario;  Burlington, Vermont; Butte, Montana; and Hood River, Oregon.

  Today, the St. Urho tradition is carried on in many Finnish communities, sometimes as an excuse to add an extra day of rowdy celebration to the St. Patrick's Day festivities.  In many Finnish-American communities, however, St. Urho's Day is the celebration, and St. Pat's feast day is merely an afterthought, a day to sleep off the hangover.

Sinikka, St. Urho's Wife, the real hero??

   No St. Urho's Day would be complete without, mentioning his wife, Sinikka!  Here's the info on her:

   For many years Sinikka's spirit has been watching all these doings; Urho getting all the glory, and Sinkka, lying unknown in dark ruins.
 But now, up from the grave, the spirit of Sinikka has risen!  "You know, Urho and I did things together, like a team of oxen"! 
Many people thought that St. Urho wasn't married and needed a wife, but he was married to the shy young maiden, Sinikka, the love of his life! 
And "So what," you ask, "did that Sinikka, St. Urho's wife do?"  Why Sinikka did all those things that Urho didn't have the time to! 
It is said Urho chased out all them grasshoppers, almost big as pigs!  To save the vines and grapes in the land where all the Finns live.

   Then while Urho was out getting all the honors, many thought him due, Sinikka was at home tending the vines where those grapes, big as figs, grew!
 And when they were ripened, Sinikka would call all their twelve kids, to carefully pick off those vines those purple grapes, big as figs!
 Then Sinikka would heat up the sauna fire, so it was good and hot, and threw in the twelve children, bare naked, all in one lot! 
Sinikka scrubbed them all clean from their heads to their toes.  Wiped them down dry, and into the big grape barrel they did go! 
"Now, stomp, jump, and play on those purple grapes, big as figs"!  Sinikka told all the twelve children, from the little one to the big!
 So much fun they did have, all those happy children at play, and so much grape juice was ready by the end of the day. 
That it was then coming out so fast that Sinikka had to build a dam, to store the juice 'til she could make it into jellies and jam!

 So you see whil Urho was getting his sainthood many thought him due, Sinikka was at home doing all the chores, which were not just a few! 
Sinikka pounded their clothes clean on the shores of the great Spirit Lake, Sinikka ground up the grain for the loaves of rye bread she baked.
From Sinikka's garden they dug up vegetables to store in the cellar, so the family could eat with rye bread, pottuja and mojakka all winter! 
Then Sinikka had to reap the bees' harvest and sell some honey, to buy the yard goods and shoe leather, as they cost money!
 Sinikka then taught the six girls how to sew all the family clothes, and to trim the skirts and shirts nicely with braids and bows.
Sinikka showed the boys how to cut and stitch all the family shoes, and keep them in good condition for the whole family to use.
 Sinikka milked the cows and made the feelia sour, she gathered the eggs, and from the sheep's wool, Sinnikka spun and knitted leggings for all of their legs!
 So, you see, while St. Urho has been getting all the glory for so many years, it's time to honor Sinikka, she stood by him through blood, sweat, and tears!
 Goodhearted, kind, and very hardworking was that Sinikka, wife of St. Urho, and it was said by many that maybe Sinikka was the real sainted hero!
 But nobody wanted to honor a woman, though a deserving Finn, and give sainthood to someone whose name started with "Sin"!