Keeping up with tradition: Annual Heikinpaiva celebration continues to make area a popular winter destination

Roland Burgan/Finlandia Heritage Center Archives Snow flies during the 2000 Heikinpäivä parade.

HANCOCK — In 1999, the Finnish Theme Committee created a half day celebration that has gone on to become a tradition of the Finnish community and the city of Hancock.

“It grew from what was imagined to be a one-time event, for a number of years it was a one-day celebration,” said David Maki, assistant editor for the Finnish American Reporter. “It grew to be more days, and now we use the better part of a month to celebrate to provide everything we know that people like to participate in.”

One of the minds behind Heikinpäivä was Jim Kurtti, now a Finnish Theme Committee member. 

“I was inspired by old folk sayings and winter and winter predictions, especially centered around name days,” Kurtti said.

With themes from Finnish sayings and legends, the first celebration took place on the Heikki name day, also know known as St. Henrik’s day, which is considered the halfway mark of winter. The Heikinpäivä celebration took place on the traditional Jan. 19 date. 

Roland Burgan/Finlandia Heritage Center Archives The 1999 Heikinpäivä parade complete with reindeer and traditional dress. Though traditional clothing is still encouraged, reindeer no longer participate due to chronic wasting disease concerns and other factors.

“We took that as inspiration for creating a new Finnish-American holiday,” Kurtti said.

The event has clicked, becoming the tradition it is today. 

Heikinpäivä has a special place in the heart of many Finns with visitors driving long distances to attend. Some even make plans for each year, coming from Detroit, Indianapolis and Ontario, Kurtti said. Participants have a real passion. 

“I remember an 80-year-old woman did the polar bear dive in honor of her 80th birthday and her son-in-law and grandson dove with her,” Kurtti said. 

Many older Finns make a point of coming out to celebrate their heritage and listen to traditional Finnish music, Kurtti explained. 

Roland Burgan/Finlandia Heritage Center Archives Participants in the original 1999 Heikinpäivä take an icy dip.

“We still choose to celebrate at a time when most people might be more interested in hunkering down and waiting for the snow to melt,” said Maki. “We get out and embrace it…Rather than let winter get the best of you we choose to make the best of it.”

“We are sort of thumbing our nose at winter,” Kurtti agreed.

“It’s been amazing to me to see that no matter how cold it gets, or no matter how windy it might get, there’s people lining the street to watch the parade,” Maki said. “There’s people lining up to be part of the parade and even something like the polar bear dive, which I’ll never be brave enough to do, it seems like the more wintery it gets the more people want to get out and enjoy it.”

As the traditions go on there are hopes for more participation from local businesses, organizations and residents.  

“You don’t have to be Finnish to enjoy it, it’s nice to see that come to life every single year… Even if you’re not Finnish chances are you know someone who is,” Maki said. 

All are welcome to participate in the wholesome Heikinpäivä fun. 

“We want to make history this year by having the largest and most colorful parade yet,” said Maki.