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Minnesota Finns don purple and green to celebrate lesser-known saint


For years people in small towns across Minnesota have gathered together to celebrate St. – no, not Patrick – Urho, the man who, according to legend, scared all the grasshoppers out of Finland to save the grapes.

St. Urho's Day is celebrated March 16, the day before his more-famous "cousin" St. Patrick.

The legend of St. Urho originated in Northern Minnesota in the 1950s, but two different men are credited with inventing the holiday – Sulo Havumaki of Bemidji and Richard Mattson of Virginia, according to the Bemidji Pioneer. The legend has spread and Finns across the United States and Canada now celebrate the saint.

For nearly two decades people in Finland, Minnesota have celebrated St. Urho's Day. The town, much like others in northern Minnesota, traces its roots to the 1800s when thousands of Finns came to the state – first to farming communities, then to the iron mines, MPR News reports.

"It's a heck of a party. After a long winter, and we've all got a bad case of cabin fever, to come out of our homes and see our neighbors and be totally silly out in the streets is really quite a relief," Amy Gardner told MPR. Gardner, who isn't of Finnish decent, celebrated her 24th St. Urho's Day this year.

Dressed in purple (for the grapes) and green (for the grasshoppers) and surrounded by images of grasshoppers and grapes, Finns and non-Finns in the town celebrate the holiday with a parade and games, including the Miss Helme beauty contest, where men dress in drag and display their talents at local bars. The winner rides in the parade, MPR says.

Other towns, like Jacobson, Minnesota, hold a pancake breakfast every year, according to the Aitkin AgeLake Norden holds an annual parade and potluck. Other celebrations also include competitive cribbage tournaments, bar stool races, frozen lake golf, and a grape distribution parade, according to Wired.

Similar to the holiday it proceeds by a day, St. Urho's celebrations typically involve alcohol, MPR says.

Here's a look at St. Urho's Day celebrations in Menahga, Minnesota:

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