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39th Annual St. Urho’s Day: Finland prepares for hopper season opener

St. Urho is a fictional saint that saved Finland’s grape crop from an onslaught of grasshoppers. Finlanders made this papier-mâché replica of the villain of St. Urho’s Day. Photo by Ken Vogel.1 / 2
Sidney Dubbin, Airen Ramsdell and Nicole Tibbetts work on a papier-mâché deer head during the float workshop last weekend in preparation for St. Urho’s Day. Photo by Ken Vogel.2 / 2

Ken Vogel

With recent warmer temperatures and melting snow, spirits are soaring in anticipation of opening day of “hopper season” in Finland.

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Beginning today, the North Shore community of Finland is celebrating St. Urho for the 39th year, under the theme of Hunting and Fishing for Hoppers.

“Winter is over and spring is near,” said area resident Pat Ramsdell. “This is about people getting out and having fun after a long winter.”

St. Urho is a fictional character credited with saving his native Finland (the country, not the town) from grasshoppers. Legend says that grasshoppers were destroying the grape crop along with the jobs of ancient Finnish vineyard workers in the winemaking process until Urho found a way to banish them.

A northern Minnesotan came up with the tongue-in-cheek holiday more than a half-century ago, although the identity of the actual founder remains unclear. It always falls on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, giving those of Scandinavian descent a holiday to rival the Irish celebration.

Ramsdell is the master of ceremonies for the Miss Helmi pageant, a highlight of the festival that takes place on Friday night. The winning Miss Helmi is selected after the contestants – men decked out in skirts, wigs and tacky jewelry – perform at Wildhurst Lodge, the Four Seasons, the West Branch and Our Place.

Judges take into consideration costume design and talent. While there is no particular order of the stops, adoring fans gather at all locations to cheer on the brave contestants.

An anonymous source pointed to one boon of competing to be Miss Helmi – contestants get a free drink at every stop.

Food also plays a critical part in a celebration of this magnitude. Four Seasons restaurant owner Bonnie Tikkanen has her chef preparing a feast fit for a hungry hopper hunter. The feast of St. Urho includes smoked salmon, crispy frog leg salad, venison sausage and wild mushroom hash, rabbit sausage and smoked cheddar cheese. She also curated a most fitting dessert of grasshopper pie and mock cricket brittle.

“It’s been a hard winter,” Tikkanen said. “This is a good time for everyone to come out and enjoy the music, food and drink. The parade is always loaded with fun and antics.”

Event coordinator Honor Schauland said planning for the celebration has turned into a year-around project.

“After the festivities, people are still ramped up by how much fun it was,” she said. “People use that energy and come to me with ideas for next year right away.”

Schauland said she is impressed with the degree of

community involvement for a small town with such a big event – it regularly draws a thousand people to the tiny community. The most popular event is Saturday’s parade, which begins at noon.

Rumor has it there will be no mercy this year for the nemesis grasshoppers. Plenty of Mojakka, beverages and Finnish folklore will surely drive the dreaded beasts away. The only remaining question is, will they return again next year?

Find a full schedule of events on page B2.