Mar 162014
 

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Today is the feast of St Urho, an invented saint who is supposedly the Finnish version of St Patrick.  I hope you see the humor in it all.The legend of Saint Urho was the invention of a Finnish-American named Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956. Mattson later recounted that he invented St. Urho when he was questioned by coworker Gene McCavic about the Finns’ lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick, whose feat of casting the snakes out of Ireland is remembered on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry (Bishop of Finland).

According to the original “Ode to St. Urho” written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, St. Urho was supposed to have cast “tose ‘Rogs” (those frogs) out of Finland by the power of his loud voice, which he obtained by drinking “feelia sour” (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup).

Ode to Saint Urho
by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson
Virginia, Minnesota

Ooksi kooksi coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds.
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen
Braffest Finn I effer seen
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho’s Tay.

The original “Ode to St. Urho” identified St. Urho’s Day as taking place on May 24. Later the date was changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. St. Urho’s feast is supposed to be celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. Other details of the invented legend also changed, apparently under the influence of Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota. The legend now states that St. Urho drove away grasshoppers (rather than frogs) from Finland using the incantation “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!”), thus saving the Finnish grape crops. Another version of the modern celebration of St. Urho’s Day is that it was created by Kenneth Brist of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. 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.

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The designation of St. Urho as patron saint of the Finnish is particularly humorous because 82.5% of the Finnish population is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, which does not recognize Feasts of Saints. Brist promoted the “annual cancellation” of the St. Urho’s Day Parade in Chippewa Falls with advertisements in the Chippewa Herald Telegram and by teaching his high school students about the legend of St. Urho. The “Ode to St. Urho” has been modified to reflect these changes in the feast day and legend. The Ode is written in a self-parodying form of English as spoken by Finnish immigrants known as Finnglish. There is also a “Ballad of St. Urho” written by Sally Karttunen.

Ballad of St Urho
Finnglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of Kuka Sen Saunan Lämmitää

St. Urho was a Finnish lad,
A blue eyed, blond hair poika,
St. Urho, bashful suomalainen
Ate grapes and kala mojakkaa.

He chased those big green bugs away,
“Heinäsirkka, mene pois!”
He said it loudly, just one time —
Tose ‘hoppers had no choice!

And so the Finns are here right now,
To celebrate Dear Urho,
And sing and dance in temperatures…..
It’s always way ‘plo zero!

Then in snowbanks deep and rivers iced,
To our saunas we will go, oh!
Cuz’ Urho is our hero, now,
As all good Finns must know!

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St Urho’s Song
Finglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

St. Urho, little Finnish lad,
A blond haired lad, a blue eyed lad,
St. Urho, bashful Finnish lad,
Chased ‘tos grasshoppers ‘vay,

An tats vhy Finns still ‘member him,
And tans wid him and sing wid him,
An tats why Finns eat grapes wid him,
An haf dat Urho’s Tay!

[Brief note on the Finnish language: Finnish has several fewer consonants than English. Missing are B, C, D, and G. Consequently there are no sounds for those letters, and B becomes P, C becomes S or K, D becomes T, and G becomes K. When Finnish rally drivers talk about transmission problems with their cars, they refer to it as a “kearpox”. There are also no definite or indefinite articles in Finnish sentence structure — “the,” “a,” or “an” are not part of Finnish grammar.]

The selection of the name Urho as the saint’s name was probably influenced by the accession of Urho Kekkonen to the presidency of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language also has the meaning of 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. The original statue of St. Urho is located in Menahga, Minnesota. Another interesting chainsaw-carved St. Urho statue is located in Finland, Minnesota. There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho’s Pub in central Helsinki, Finland. A 2001 book, The Legend of St. Urho by Joanne Asala, presents much of the folklore surrounding St. Urho and includes an essay by Richard Mattson on the “birth” of St. Urho.

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On March 16, 1999 in Kaleva, Michigan a large Metal Sculpture of a Grasshopper was Dedicated in honor of St. Urho’s day. Kaleva is a community settled by Finnish Immigrants in 1900. In fact Kaleva is named after the Kalevala, the Epic Finnish story about the Creation of the Earth. Many places with mixed populations of Finnish and Irish have an annual St. Urho’s day event on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Butte, Montana holds such a celebration each March 16.

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Was St. Urho a Failure? According to the website www.SaintUrho.com 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 also includes a CD with grasshopper calls.

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Urho grew strong on fish soup so here is my version of the Finno-American classic kala mojakka. It is a fairly generic creamed white fish soup flavored with thyme and dill. I made this today making enough for 2 because I live alone and don’t want to be eating fish soup for a week.

©Kala mojakka

Ingredients:

1 medium sized potato, peeled and sliced
9 ozs/250g firm white fish fillet, preferably perch, pike, or trout
1 tbsp butter
1 leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch thyme
salt and white pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsps heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp fresh dill

Instructions:

Bring 4 cups of salted water to the boil, add the potatoes, and simmer until they are soft.  Use a slotted spoon to remove them and reserve.

Keeping the water on simmer, add the fish and poach until barely cooked through (about 8 minutes).  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve along with the potatoes.  Reserve the cooking liquid in a bowl.

Melt the butter in the pot and add the onion, leek, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté until soft. Add the flour and mix well to combine, forming a blond roux. Add one cup of the cooking water, stirring well to avoid lumps. Then add plus 2 cups milk (plus cream if used). Simmer for 15 minutes.

Flake the fish and add it and the potatoes and dill 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Check seasonings and serve with buttered crusty bread.

Serves 2

  2 Responses to “St Urho”

  1. Very interesting information I never knew. I never would remember St. Urho’s Day, except I am always reminded of it by two good friends, one Scottish-Polish, and one Finnish.

    • Thanks Gene. I get a ton of readers but very few comments. Nice to be appreciated. Fortunately I do this for my own amusement primarily. This post seems to be popular for some reason. I certainly approve of the humor of the day. Very Finnish. When I am hanging around with Finnish friends I can never be entirely sure when they are joking. It gets easier to tell as the vodka bottle gets emptied.

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