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Janis and Bobby Hillstrom were crowned St. Urho's royalty Saturday. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Menahga celebrates Finnish folklore (St. Urho) days

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Saints usually evoke benevolent thoughts of Mother Theresa surrounded by lepers. But every March, Menahga hosts a boisterous weekend to celebrate a giant sainted Finn with an even more ginormous grasshopper impaled on a pitchfork.

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All hail the festival of St. Urho, which took place this weekend in Menahga. His saintness is alleged, in Finnish folklore, to have eradicated a locust of grasshoppers feasting on the country's sparse grape crop.

This year's royalty, anointed honorary Urho and spouse, were Bobby and Janis Hillstrom.

"We got crowned," Bobby said Saturday. "Luckily it wasn't with a frying pan."

Janis, clad in purple Crocs, was showing off the new paper crowns the city sprang for this year. The robes are handed down annually.

At high noon Saturday, they met their court, "high" being the state of mind of the participants, not the sun's direction.

Urho's ragtag army of knights paraded in and began to changing of the guard, waving a Finnish flag and pitchforks.

The changing of the guard is actually the "changing of the underwear," and the "Knights of St. Urho," decked out in lavender union suits and wearing clusters of grapes and tiny green shot glasses around their necks, began the ritual disrobing.

Once the ceremonial undressing was over, the crowd moved up the street for the parade, then to Spirit Lake for the bar stool races and hilarity.

In homage to the sainted Finn, Menahga commissioned a carving of Urho in 1982 from a chainsaw artist, using a 2,000-pound block of solid oak. Time and Mother Nature eventually ravaged it.

It's been replaced with a 12-foot fiberglass replica that is supposed to with-stand winters such as this one. There is also a statue in Finland, Minnesota.

Saturday night the Menahga VFW served up the traditional meal of mojakka and flatbread.

"I'm not sure what it is," said a convenience store clerk. "It's a cross between stew and soup but it's really good. It has meat and potatoes in it."

Now if Minnesotans can convince Urho to tackle the mosquito problem, he'll really earn his sainted status.

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