March 16, Feast of St. Urho. The Weird history of the invented Finnish St. Patrick

Today is the feast of St Urho, a saint invented to fill the role of the Finnish St Patrick.

The legend of Saint Urho was hatched up by Finnish-American Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956.

Mattson later admitted to inventing St. Urho when a coworker Gene McCavic pointed out the Finns’ lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick.

In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry (Bishop of Finland).

The story is that St. Urho “tose ‘Rogs” (those frogs) out of Finland using only his voice, which he fortified by drinking “feelia sour” (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup).

The legend later evolved to grasshoppers instead of frogs.  He drove them away using the incantation “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!”), thus saving the Finnish grape crops.

In fact, there’s no Finnish wine industry to speak of.

Or St. Urho was created by a high school teacher to have a day to celebrate.

Brist, a high school teacher, was teaching in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early to mid-1950s in an area largely populated by people of Finnish heritage.

He and his friends concocted March 16 as St. Urho’s Day so that they had two days to celebrate, the next day being St. Patrick’s Day.

Making St. Urho the patron saint of the Finnish is particularly weird because 82.5% of the Finnish population is Lutheran.  Lutheranism doesn’t even recognize Feasts of Saints.

The selection of the name Urho as the saint’s name was probably influenced Urho Kekkonen, President of Finland in the 1950’s.

Urho in Finnish can mean hero or simply brave. 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 saintly name.

There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the U.S., and the festival is celebrated on March 16 in many American and Canadian communities with Finnish roots.

Celebrations often include locals dressed as grapes and grasshoppers wearing purple and green reenacting their hero’s triumph over the grasshoppers.

Menahgha Minnesota has a grape-distribution parade (whilst pursued by strangely zombie-like grasshoppers chanting “Graaaaaaaapes……”), bar-stool races, and frozen lake golf.

Ironically,  St. Urho is almost unknown in Finland.

Was St. Urho a Failure?

According to the website, they recently received a book that indicates the grasshopper population in Finland is thriving.

The book is titled Suomen heinäsirkat ja hepokatit (The Grasshoppers and Crickets of Finland) by Sami Karjalainen.

It is 200 pages long full of color photos of Finnish grasshoppers. The book even includes a CD with grasshopper calls.

Happy St. Urho’s Day!

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