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Published March 14 2013

Benshoof: What about this weekend’s other saint?

MENAGHA, Minn. - St. Patrick’s Day is Sunday, and people are sure to be celebrating all weekend. But what about the other saint – or, rather, pseudosaint – honored the day before?

Yes, that would be St. Urho, for whom the Finns wear purple on Saturday and who is celebrated all weekend long in Menahga, a small town about 80 miles east of Fargo-Moorhead.

I say pseudosaint, though, because St. Urho isn’t technically a saint like St. Patrick. Not really.

For starters, St. Patrick was a real live saint way back in the 400s, and some historians agree that March 17 was the actual date of his death.

St. Patrick preached throughout Ireland, and legend has it he also drove all the snakes out of the country – though historians question whether there were ever snakes there to begin with.

St. Urho, meanwhile, wasn’t so much a real person. Rather, he seems to have been created by Minnesota Finns who were jealous of the fun the Irish were getting out of St. Patrick’s Day.

For that reason, St. Urho was invented in the 1950s somewhere in northern Minnesota – either Bemidji or Virginia; records are unclear – according to www.sainturho.com.

According to that new legend, St. Urho saved Finland’s grape crop, if ever there was such a thing, from a plague of grasshoppers.

Needing a day to celebrate their new saint and his historic accomplishments, the Finns settled on March 16, naturally preempting the Irish by a day.

What may have started as a joke has turned into an annual event. Finnish communities all over Minnesota, Canada and the rest of the U.S. celebrate the day, which is recognized by all 50 states.

As St. Patrick’s Day has turned largely into a drinking holiday, St. Urho’s Day retains some of the somber stoicism that the Finns are known for. After all, it’s a reflection on the hero who saved their countryside from the great grasshopper incursion.

Or maybe not so much. In Menahga this weekend, one of the planned activities will be an outdoor barstool race, involving a rider on a barstool on skis being pushed towards a finish line (or is it Finnish line?).

The Irish, too, will have barstool racing going on this weekend, though it’s a wee bit different in practice.

So if you’re trying to figure out which saint to honor this weekend, don’t worry about it.

Even if you don’t have a touch of Irish or Finnish blood in you, this is the weekend to proclaim your multiculturalism and celebrate both.

If you go

What: St. Urho Day celebration

When: Today through Sunday

Where: Menahga, Minn.

Info: For a full schedule of events, visit www.menahga.com


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535