Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Purple Beer, Purple Beer....

A reader of Scandinavian heritage, who felt a little left out with all this St. Paddy's hubbub, pointed me toward a saint who can actually be rightly commemorated with the consumption of alcohol. Because, let's face it, Patrick didn't use green beer for his baptisms or anything of the kind.

Tomorrow is St. Urho's Day.... Here's his story:
As legend has it, he was responsible for saving the Finnish vineyards from a swarming outbreak of locusts. His method of control -a pitchfork and some strong words. "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, meine täättä hiiteen" or roughly translated to English "Grasshopper, grasshopper, get the hell out of here," was enough to eradicate the hoards of locusts from the vineyard. These Finnish grape farmers were pretty protective of their crop, considering the short growing season. As the legend goes, these farmers injected vodka into the individual grapes to ensure a high alcohol content. And because of this heroic act of pest management, Urho was erected into sainthood by the local vintners.
So is he the patron saint of exterminators or something?
At sunrise, women and children go to the lakeshore and chant "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, meine täättä hiiteen" as St. Urho did thousands of years ago. The men of the local villages dress in nile green costumes and gather at the hillsides that overlook the local lakes. They begin walking down the hillside, chanting, and kicking the grasshoppers out as they go. Somewhere during the process of kicking out the grasshoppers and chanting, they are to change their costumes from green to purple.

This festival of Finnish-Americans was created in the upper mid west to compete with a slightly more popular ethnic holiday a day later- St. Patrick's Day. Activities for the St. Urho Day festival include drinking purple beer, planting donut seeds (apparently Cheerios are the main seed source), a parade, and most importantly the crowning of a Grasshopper King.
Purple Beer?? Good God, this must be a 'Sota thing -- don't forget who the state's most famous Purple Native is (hint: the patron saint of Monsignori)....

Happy St. Urho's to all our Grasshopper Kings and Queens out there.