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Menahga celebrating fabled Finnish grasshopper chaser

Don your purple and green and good humor, then head to Menahga for St. Urho Days. The Nytes of St. Urho perform the colorful changing of the guard at noon Saturday, March 19. (Enterprise file photo)

Finns have a sense of humor.

     If you don’t believe it, just look at this year’s outrageous line-up for Menahga’s St. Urho festivities.

     Human foosball?

     A St. Urho look-a-like contest?

     Viking bowling?

     “It’s just a weird and wacky weekend,” says Travis Floyd, president of the Menahga Civic and Commerce Association, which organizes the annual celebration.

     “It’s one of those fun events. It helps break up the winter,” he said.

     A couple of witty Finnish-Americans from northern Minnesota – no one is certain who deserves the blame, er, credit – conceived of St. Urho in the 1950s.

     According to legend, St. Urho drove giant grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the country’s vineyards. He is typically honored the day before a well-known Irish patron saint.

     Menahga’s two-day, family-friendly festival kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, March 18 with the crowning of the 2016 St. Urho King and Queen in the high school gym.

     The first-ever St. Urho Look-a-Like Contest will follow coronation. The winner collects 271.16 Euros, or $300, in prize money. In an official proclamation, St. Urho himself has said all “noble believers,” big or small, are welcome to participate. He set the challenge “to see which of you has the sisu to don the trappings of my visage.”

     (“Sisu” is a Finnish term that roughly means “strength of will.”)

     Nick Bretz of Imaginick will perform a magic show at 7:30 p.m. that same evening.

     Admission to Friday’s opening ceremonies is $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under. The family fee is capped at $20.

     A pancake breakfast and raffle runs from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, March 19 at the Menahga Community Center. Proceeds go toward the senior center and Meals on Wheels.

     To join the St. Urho Volleyball Tournament, bring teammates to the Menahga School gym. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m.

     The raucous Changing of the Guards should not to be missed. The ceremony is held next to St. Urho’s statue at noon.

     The St. Urho Day parade commences at 12:20 p.m. Horse-drawn wagon rides will be available, starting at the Cottage House Café.

     Bring your appetite for mojakka, a Finnish beef stew, to the Menahga VFW. It will be offered, along with corned beef and cabbage, from noon until 7 p.m.

     Try your hand at möllky, a Scandinavian version of bowling. Players use a wooden pin, called a möllky, to knock over 12 wooden pins called skittles. Games begin at 1 p.m.

     Meet a dog sled team at the tennis/basketball courts at 1 p.m.

     Competitors of all ages are welcome to enter the human foosball tournament. There’s a registration fee of $30 per team. Each team must field six players, which includes one goalie, three attackers and two defenders. The tournament begins at 1 p.m.

     Menahga C&C members have constructed a human-sized version of the tabletop game. They built the 32-foot-long by 24-foot-wide enclosure using half-inch chipboard, rope and PVC pipe.

     Played with a soccer ball, human foosball requires teammates to move together, from side to side, to score goals. Players may only kick with the side of their foot.

     Dave Treinen, a C&C member, is credited with discovering this new event and adding it to St. Urho Day plans.

     The VFW will host a meat raffle at 3 p.m. and bingo at 5 p.m. A local band, “Sketchy at Best,” will provide live music, starting at 8:30 p.m.

     Due to a lack of snow, bar stool races have been cancelled.

     “Come. Re-imagine your patron saint. Let me live in your hearts and foolishness,” urges St. Urho. “Let us celebrate together a community striving for its common good by sharing in laughter.”