The Legend of St. Urho
The Finnish Saint Who Saved Wine
Imagine the balmy summer air of Finland and the luscious grapes hanging in clumps from their prospering vines in a northerly vineyard. Sound a bit farcical? It gets better, including an almost biblical plague of grasshoppers, magic chanting, and the man who saves all of the wine, Saint Urho. Because in Finns’ book, whoever saves the drink of the vine, might as well be a saint.
So, who is this Urho guy and how exactly how did he save wine? As legend has it, hordes of hungry grasshoppers infested Finland and began to devour every grape in the vineyards. Enter St. Urho, a man towering over 7’ tall and apparently acquiring his strength from sour milk and fish soup (we’ll stick with the wine, right!? Yikes!). However, it seems there was some magic to the sour milk and fish soup, as Urho was known for his giant, booming voice. This booming voice would be the instrument of grasshopper demise!
We wouldn’t go as far as to say that St. Urho nicely asked the grasshoppers to skedaddle, but his chants of, “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen”, (translates roughly to “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, Go away”) isn’t exactly the most threatening. Nevertheless, the grasshoppers fled to some other country’s crop and thus wine in Finland was saved!
Debatably the most interesting part of this tale is that the legend of St. Urho is said to have actually originated in a land far, far away from mother Finland. Accounts vary, but it sounds like some guy in Northern Minnesota in the 1950s needed an excuse to boast his Finnish heritage in light of his Irish counterparts and their celebration of Saint Patrick's Day, which conveniently falls the day after Saint Urho was said to have saved the Finns from a life without wine. Other details have since been added, embellishing the tale and character of Urho. Aside from saving a nation’s grape crop, this saintly Finn apparently also makes a divine strawberry rhubarb pie, but we digress.
Moral of the story? Us Finnish-Americans just wanted our own excuse to celebrate our heritage and perhaps to drink an Irish lad and lass under the table (we joke...sort of.) It just so happens that a large portion of us live in northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, hence the aforementioned birthplace of Saint Urho, hero of the Finnish-American people.
St. Urho's Day takes place on March 16th every year. Celebrate the day by wearing green and purple while drinking your favorite wine!
- Touch of Finland