A truly grape time

Get set for Hood River’s St. Urho’s Day festivities on Sunday

Once again, Hood River is set to celebrate St. Urho’s Day, the annual Finnish “holiday” where horned helmets, giant grasshoppers, pitchforks, Black & Decker drills, purple underwear, purple t-shirts and purple cars are all standard fare. Local Finns and their friends will honor Finland’s patron saint on Sunday.

On tap this year, according to the local St. Urho Committee, is the annual parade, gathering at 11:30 a.m. at the Northwest Auto Parts south parking area in the Heights. At the staging area last year’s queen, Mildred Alajoki, will crown her successor from the Royal Court — the ABC Hukari girls: Princesses Althea Hukari, Beth Hukari and Camille Hukari. The theme of the 2002 parade is “Fantastic Finnish Freedom Fighters Finnish the Job!”

Organizers expect to see a return of the “abnormal,” mainly the Finnish Women’s Drill Team, decked out in purple and green and wielding battery-operated drills twirling Finnish flags; the Iron Maidens, viking-clothed vixens; Knights of St. Urho, sporting purple underwear and strange hats; and St. Urho’s Unmarching Bands from the local middle schools. Rumor has it that the Hood River Middle School Unicycle club may be in evidence — the question is, how will they do going down Hospital Hill?

The traditional “Changing of the Guards” will take place in front of City Hall on Oak Street at approximately 12:20 p.m. Spectators generally actively participate by pelting paraders with grapes.

The parade co-founder, Felix Tomlinson, and his traditional stunning green polyester 1970s vintage leisure suit, may or may not be still golfing in Arizona; if dear Felix is not able to get away from his tee-off time, Maija Annala Yasui, former St. Urho Queen (1983 and 1997) will fill in as master of ceremonies.

The 2002 Grand Parade Marshal is State Rep. Patti Smith from Corbett.

Everyone is invited to join the post-parade activities at Full Sail Tasting Room & Pub on Columbia Street, where there will be the traditional “Toast to the Queen” and music by the infamous and highly talented Rubber Chicken Lollipop Band.

For the uninitiated, St. Urho’s Day was “born” by brilliant American Finnish minds in Menahga, Minn., in about 1958. The day, March 16, was deliberately selected by those American Finns in an effort to upstage St. Patrick’s Day so successfully celebrated by the Irish on the following day. St. Urho’s Day is now celebrated throughout the United States by persons of Finnish descent (and others with an unusual sense of humor) — it is rumored that the motherland — Finland — now has some understanding of the American intent of St. Urho’s Day!

It is said that Urho, a Finnish male of many years ago, recognized that grasshoppers were destroying the grape crops of Finland, and that without some kind of major intervention the vineyards would be destroyed, resulting in no wine that year. So Urho seized a pitchfork and successfully banished all grasshoppers across the sea to Ireland. As a result, he became a national hero and was proclaimed St. Urho. March 16 was proclaimed St. Urho’s Day in his honor. It is because of the significance of grasshoppers and grapes that the colors green and purple have become the colors of the day.

Hood River began celebrating St. Urho’s Day in 1981 when Felix Tomlinson (formerly of the Menahga, Minn., area) noticed the large Finnish population here. From that year forth, St. Urho’s Day has been celebrated in style in Hood River, becoming infamous throughout the region.

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