Happy St. Urho Day

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There are times when all of us wish for the past to return. Since time-machines are still science fiction, we must learn to adapt. It is the learning challenge (some call it a curve, but it is more like a left turn to me) that bothers most of us. Since the media of today is making a big deal over AI (artificial intelligence) and there are only a few who really understand and comprehend it, we can only rely on our own best judgement.

The question is always the same.  “Is it true?”

There is an AI concept that is totally peculiar. It is “reality” vs “legend.” The essence of the conflict is that fewer and fewer people care about the truth, and care more about legend. Hence when reality becomes legend, go with the legend. Such is the case centered on the tale of Finland’s Saint Urho, the Finnish saint who saved wine.

My collecting has always centered on Alpine topics, but I recently found a card at a show in Minnesota, and I simply could not resist it. The image is of a face only a mother could love.

Happy Holy Courage Day

Surprisingly the story originated in an accounting firm’s breakroom where several certified public accountants were having lunch during the second week of March in the mid-1950s. It was a mixed group of men and women, and the conversation turned to each individual’s plan for the weekend. Several of those present were bragging about the upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day celebration that included a parade, during which several kegs of green beer would be tapped. The parade would then be followed by an Irish dress up dinner of boiled ham and cabbage in the basement of the local Catholic church.

Without forethought, George Solenen struggled to his feet and announced to the group that he had heard enough of their Irish blather. George apologized for interrupting the conversation, but he still insisted that his colleagues listen to his weekend plan. He went on to tell the story of the famous Finnish Saint Urho. George explained how Urho was the national hero, who was called upon early in the history of Finland to save the country’s wine industry from a natural pestilence of gnawing insects who ate grapes while still on the vine.

As far as the truth goes, no one knows, but as legend has it, hordes of hungry grasshoppers infested Finland and began to devour every grape in the vineyards. Thus, from far-to-wide the call went out for help and Urho appeared. He was a man standing well over seven feet tall who had apparently acquired his strength from a steady diet of sour milk and fish soup. He dressed in brown leather britches and a matching tunic. He wore a heavy beard; his legs were as large as tree-trunks and in his arms, he carried the world’s largest pitchfork. Also, it seems that his diet had affected Urho in another way. Urho was known for his giant, booming voice. This booming voice would be the instrument of grasshopper demise!

The demise of the “Heinäsirkka,” pronounced hay ne’ ser ka, was reason to celebrate but never brag about, so the legend never left the country and no one else in the world knew of Saint Urho. And yet today, St. Urho’s Day is celebrated on March 16th in Minnesota and Michigan, where communities of Finns have settled in recent decades. Celebrate the day by wearing green and purple while drinking your favorite wine! But wherever St. Urho’s day is celebrated, you can hear the chat, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen,” which loosely translates to “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Go away.”

Children sing a tune that goes, Once upon a time we would see the grasshoppers, all nice and green. They ate our grapes and stole the scene until Saint Urho came to help the village team. Saint Urho waved his pitchfork all around our town and all at once there were no grasshoppers to be seen.

It can never be said that St. Urho asked the grasshoppers to simply leave Finland. He demanded that they go elsewhere – and most of them did because of Urho’s loud and booming voice. Those who did not leave found themselves on a tine in Urho’s pitchfork.  

The moral of St. Urho’s Day is that if you need an excuse to celebrate your own national heritage – be it real or imagined – when you are overwhelmed by the Irish (or any one else) simply invent your own hero, give him a ridiculous name, give him some memorable characteristics that everyone envies and convince at least two others to join you in a celebratory dinner of fish head soup garnished with sour cream.

In other words, make a legend your own personal truth by making a big ado over nothing.

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Finland’s actual (although his existence is disputed) patron saint is Henry, a twelfth-century bishop whose feast day is January 19.

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Ray Hahn

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