Saints alive! Urho's big day dawning, too

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As you may have heard, Minnesotans are celebrating St. Patrick's Day on both Saturday and Tuesday this year.

Which makes St. Urho a veritable sandwich on Monday.

If you asked "St. Who?" we must direct you toward an enlightening essay published by The Chronicle of St. Helen's, Oregon, this week.

Writer Bill Eagle explains Urho with a flair there, but the short version is this: While St. Patrick saved Ireland from poisonous snakes, St. Urho did something similar for Finland – rescuing the grape crop from swarms of ravenous grasshoppers.

As Eagle puts it:

"Young Urho stood up holding a pitchfork in his hand. He made the sign of a cross with his pitchfork and shouted: “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” The English translation being: “Grasshopper, grasshopper, get the hell out of here.” …And they did, the grasshoppers fled Finland, for Sweden, Norway, Latvia and Russia."

In Minnesota, Urho is memorialized in Menahga and feted in Finland, with this weekend's celebration in the latter town along the Lake Superior shore marking the 40th annual event.

The person who did the most to spread the word of Urho's mighty deeds was Richard Mattson, who managed a department store in Virginia, Minnesota, during the 1950s and whose obituary appeared in the Mesabi Daily News in 2001.

We hesitate to mention this, but there are skeptics in the world who question the veracity of the story of St. Urho.

"Grapes don't really grow in Finland," some say. "The whole thing was invented by Scandinavians to regain some attention from the Irish around St. Patrick's Day," others argue.

But another page from Minnesota history – the one about Assumption Chapel in Cold Spring – tells us that grasshoppers really can decimate crops and church leaders have done much to drive them away.

All of which helps explain why some Minnesotans will be clad in purple and green as they remember grapes and grasshoppers on March 16, St. Urho's Day.

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