Happy St. Urho's Day!

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On the day before St. Patrick's Day, celebrate St. Urho's Day to honor the Patron Saint of the Finnish vineyard workers.

Before the ice age, Finland's grape crops were under attack from a pest. A man named Urho (pronounced "oorho") fortified by sour milk and fish soup came to the hill and yelled "Heinasirkka, heinasirkka, menetaalta hiteen!" which translates to "Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away!" With a few words, Urho saved the vineyards and became a hero.

Though Urho lived in ancient times, his story emerged in the 1950s, from the imagination of Richard Matteson, a Ketola department store manager in Minnesota. According to the account in Joanne Asala's book The Legend of St. Urho, Matteson wanted to impress his Irish coworker with a Finnish saint story, and made up the tale of how Saint Urho rescued Finland's grape crop by driving poisonous frogs out.

Urho's story evolved from a workplace joke to an international legend.

Matteson's coworker Gene McCavic wrote an ode in his honor in a "Finnish dialect." In the original story, Urho rid Finland of poisonous frogs, but grasshoppers were an actual pest native to the country. Bemidji State College Professor Sulo Havumäki revised the myth to grasshoppers and helped to popularize it. His name is on the bottom of the plaque that graces the main Urho statue in Menahga, Minnesota. Every year, locals dressed as grapes and grasshoppers wearing purple and green reenact their hero's triumph over the grasshoppers, and then they drink grape juice. Celebrations span Finnish communities around the globe,
including Ontario, Canada.

Urho's legacy made it back to Finland with the establishment of St. Urho's Pub in 1973. Grasshoppers have also returned.

See how they celebrate in Squaw Lake, Minnesota:

March 16, 2009 - 10:22am
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