Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The Wearing' of the Green (and Purple) by Karla Stover
The Wearing’ of the Green (and purple)
It’s March—that time of year, again when people eat corn beef and cabbage, drink green beer, wear something green, and celebrate a saint. Any excuse for a party, right? Well, not for the Finns who, as is well known, are of a reserved nature. Fortunately, for them, celebrating St. Urho Day on March 16th doesn’t require much in the way of revelry.
People became reacquainted with St. Urho in the 1950s although opinions differ on whether he grew out of tales told by one Sulo Havumaki of Bemidji, MN, or from the whimsical stories told by Richard Mattson of Virginia.
According to a man named William Reid, Sulo was feeling bad because there were no Finnish saints. The Reid family had relatives going to Finland and William’s father “got some very old pieces of old human bones and wood and gave them to the relatives to take to with them along with a letter and the following instructions:
(1) Find a recent obituary in a Finnish newspaper.
(2) Have the letter translated into Finnish and insert the deceased's name.
(3) Mail the letter to Sulo Havumaki by air, and send the bones and wood to Sulo by sea.” In time,
Sulo received both and held on to them until Reid senior finally fessed up when Sulo was terminally ill with cancer.However, Mattson’s son says “his father, a fun-loving Finnish-America and employee of Virginia’s Ketola’s Department Store, created the saint, after which female employees threw a St. Urho party in the store’s lunchroom and a woman read a poem she’d written. The local newspaper ran an article about the event and, Bob’s Your Uncle, a legend was born. Either way, St. Urho’s legend has grown to where he is celebrated across the United States and Canada and even in Finland. His claim to fame: he chased the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, thus saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. Contemporary wine drinkers are well aware of the quality of Finnish grapes and wine.
Thirty-five years ago, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson issued a proclamation naming Minnesota as Saint Urho’s unofficial home. And the saint has been recognized with proclamations in all 50 states. So wear your green but add Urho purple, make a Kalakukko (fish pie), and give thanks to the saint for Finland’s amazing vineyards. On March 16th, everyone’s Finnish.
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