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2014-03-15 at 14:58

Finnish celebration

By Matt Vis,
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Consider Thunder Bay a holiday destination for St. Urho, the mythical saviour of Finland’s grapes.

After all, the frigidly cold winter had to expel most of the adversarial grasshoppers on its own.

“It’s a lot of responsibility but fortunately with the cold weather I don’t have to worry about grasshoppers. Maybe next year I’ll have to grab a rake, get the gang and get rid of a few grasshoppers,” the valiant hero said after the customary parade in his honour..

The city’s Finnish community came out in large numbers for their annual celebration of St. Urho’s Day, who according to legend saved the country’s grape crop from grasshoppers.

Sound familiar to another mid-March day of festivities? It should, because the timing and parallels between Saints Urho and Patrick are not a coincidence.

The origins of the celebration date back to Northern Minnesota in the 1950’s, when the story was created with the purpose of giving Finns an equivalent to Ireland’s patron saint.

It is a tradition that has caught on quite well in a city that historically has boasted quite a substantial population of those with Finnish descent.

The day has been celebrated locally for more than 30 years.

“Hundreds of people come out and everybody gets dressed up in the purple and green St. Urho’s Day colours so we march around and get a chance to vent our frustrations against the long winter, all those pesky grasshoppers and the Swedes and ice hockey and whatever else Finns have on their minds,” said Jari Leinonen, who was appropriately dressed in a purple and green sweater of a Finnish professional hockey team.



Marchers in the parade that started at the Finlandia Club and looped down Secord up to Memorial Avenue sported festive signs with mottos such as “Hug a Finn Day: You’ll Live Longer” and “St. Urho’s Day is happiness.”

In addition to the parade, the Finlandia Hockey Club hosted an outdoor road hockey tournament on three mini-arenas that were constructed on Bay Street. Organizer Jari Kemppainen said there were 20 teams participating.

There was also traditional cuisine, music and an evening dance.

The story of St. Urho and his adventures are tongue-in-cheek because, really, grapes and wine aren’t typically associated with the Scandinavian country.

Nevertheless, it provides a reason to gather and have some fun.

And with how long cold weather has dragged on, that’s not a bad thing.

“It’s a reason to have a party in the spring and with the winter we’ve had I think we could all really use that,” Leinonen said.

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