St. Urho Day celebrated by young and old this year


March 27, 2024

Over at the Chinook Senior Center Mary Pyette, decked out in her special "all purple outfit," added some official color to the celebration. Senior diners enjoyed a choice of two soups, rye bread, veggie sticks and chocolate cake. It was a real St. Urho Day feast.

St. Urho Day was celebrated in Blaine County, as best I can tell, for the first time in 2022. The made-up Finnish saint and accompanying legend has been enjoyed by Finns, and others, in Butte for several years. Two years ago folks at the Chinook Senior Center joined together to learn about and enjoy the story of the saint and sample some of the traditional St. Urho Day menu items. It was fun.

This year, with St. Urho's March 16 holiday falling on a Saturday, we opted to celebrate at the senior center on Friday. But even before that St. Urho made a surprise visit to the local Funshine Preschool.

The low-key celebration was a couple of days of fun and learning about a famous saint who was actually created only about 70 years ago. St. Urho's Day falls only one day before Saint Patrick's Day and that was by design. Kidded about not having their own saint's holiday, a group of Finns, in Minnesota, started their own tradition and legend. Some Finns brought the tradition to Butte, Montana when they came to work in the hard rock mines in the area. And that's the short version of how St. Urho became a legend for chasing the grasshoppers from the vineyards in Finland and saving the wine. St. Patrick had his snakes, St. Urho put it to the grasshoppers.

St. Urho at the Funshine Preschool in Chinook

When St. Urho, wearing his purple robe and golden crown, entered the basement at Wallner Hall a hush fell over the chatty four- and five-year-olds at the Funshine Preschool. No doubt the pitchfork he was carrying, with a cardboard grasshopper impaled on it, seemed strange to them. And when he yelled, "Grasshoppers go away" in Finnish, one little tyke ran to a teacher, grabbed her around her legs and said, "I want my dad."

Things calmed down as the kids got used to the jolly, old saint and his pitchfork. A guessing game finally got their attention and after someone guessed "grasshopper" as the mystery bug on the pitchfork the stories about grasshoppers began to fly among the kids. The story about eating fish head soup drew a lot of "yucks!" from the youngsters. However, the fact that chocolate cake was a part of the special day did generate some interest and discussion about the holiday.

I think it went well with the kids. As I was leaving (I was playing St. Urho if you haven't guessed that part yet) the little guy who was so scared asked his teacher if he could ask me a question. Coming closer he motioned for me to bend down so he could ask quietly, "Can you come to my house and play?" I felt St. Urho might have scored a new adherent.

St. Urho at the Chinook Senior Center

The kids at the Funshine Preschool at Wallner Hall in Chinook met St. Urho this past week. Intrigued by the "big bug" on the pitchfork they really got excited when they learned a part of the official menu for the St. Urho meal is chocolate cake. A few arguments about the merits of chocolate cake were soon quieted.

Senior Center Manager Ginger Hansen and her crew of cooks and helpers put on a fantastic St. Urho Day feast. The luncheon was both authentic (for the most part) and tasty. Cod fish stew replaced the original fish head soup, to no one's disappointment. There was also tomato soup and little "Goldfish" crackers (fish heads, one supposes) to be added to either soup. Other authentic items included rye bread, veggie sticks and some really tasty chocolate cake.

St. Urho made his classic "Grasshoppers, go away" declaration in Finnish. Then read one stanza of a short poem about his exploits: Describing St. Urho, "He really told those bugs of green. Bravest Finn I ever seen. Some celebrate St. Pat and his snakes, but Urho poika (boy) got what it takes." Couldn't have summed up the nature of the fake saint better myself.

So, what's next

With help of a Christmas present from our oldest grandson and his wife and the prospect of some good weather, we will introduce the ancient Finnish throwing game of Mölkky at next year's celebration. We'll be expecting a visit by the Finnish saint and some good weather so we can introduce this lawn game to locals. Who knows, Mölkky could ultimately be an arena sport at the annual county fair.


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