‘Together again’

Heikinpäivä returns to Hancock

HANCOCK — After two years away due to COVID, Hancock’s Heikinpäivä celebration culminated Saturday with a parade, dancing, games, markets and food.

There’d been a question as to whether the annual mid-winter celebration could get back up and running, said Finnish Theme Committee chairman Jim Kurtti.

“Our members are not young, and they’re now two or three years older, so that was a concern,” he said. “But it seemed like people really yearned to have it come back, especially the older people. You see them and they’re so happy to be together again.”

Saturday’s parade drew a large turnout despite the single-digit temperatures. Or possibly because of it.

“It’s funny, but when it’s really cold, more people come to Heikinpäivä,” Kurtti said.

Finns appreciate the Finnishness of the festival, Kurtti said. But it also brings together others, whether Lithuanians, Ukrainians or Estonians, who enjoy celebrating heritage.

The festival even brings visitors from throughout the Midwest and Ontario.

“They see Hancock as a very Finnish place,” Kurtti said. “If you’re living in Milwaukee, you don’t see Finnish presence like you do here. They just love coming here, seeing the street signs and seeing such a big parade.”

Each parade includes a cast of characters from Nordic and Finnish mythology, plus more recent creations from Finnish-Americans.

Marika Seigel of Houghton was dressed as one of the grasshoppers driven out of Finland by St. Urho, a legend created by Finnish-Americans in Minnesota. (As the 1950s-era myth has it, the grasshoppers were destroying Finland’s wine crop.)

Seigel accomplished twice as much waving to crowds, as strings on the costume connected her arms to an extra set of limbs.

“It got a little tiring on my arms, but otherwise, pretty comfortable,” she said.

Kurtti was decked out in national costume, a style of dress made popular after Finland declared its independence in 1917. It was based on traditional clothing and incorporated signature touches for a particular community.

“It was a way of developing their identity stronger,” he said. “They would do grave digs and find old costumes, and the community would decide on a certain pattern.”

After Saturday’s parade, participants and onlookers alike headed to Quincy Green for the Karhunpeijäiset, a dance modeled on a traditional bear hunt. The spiral grew to include dozens of people.

That was followed by the traditional wife-carrying competition (despite the name, open to any group of two people). It was styled after a routine Saturday night in the Copper Country, in which a couple prepares for guests coming over.

In between the wife-carrying, the couple cleaned the house (unfurled three rugs), took a sauna (beat each other with a bundle of branches and threw imaginary water on the rocks) and had coffee with their guests (serving them first, of course).

The leadoff contestants were Chris Endres and Lily Boswell of Lake Linden. Their first time competing — and first Heikinpäivä overall — was good fun, they said.

“It was a new experience,” Endres said. “We need to practice next time.”

Boswell agreed, remembering their stumbles.

“You’ve got snow on your face,” she told Endres.

Other events Saturday included a book talk and signing, a reception for an art exhibit based on the Kalevela, and a dance and buffet.

People also enjoyed food and crafts inside the Finnish American Heritage Center and First United Methodist Church.

This year had fewer vendors, Kurtti said. There were two culprits. After COVID, some of the vendors had gone out of business. Others had the opposite problem: a full-fledged return to Christmas shows meant they were all sold out before Heikinpäivä, Kurtti said.

This year, the Heikinpäivä committee invited representatives from Ukraine to join in, Kurtti said. Like Ukraine, Finland has a long history of invasions and military occupation by Russia.

Saturday’s parade was being livestreamed in Ukraine, Kurtti said.

“I got an email this morning from a Ukrainian official in Washington, D.C., so it gave us a lot of exposure,” Kurtti said.

Some of the food vendors were also raising money for Ukrainians.

Hancock Rotary’s booth sold borscht to raise money for power generators for hospitals. Another sold potato dumplings and other food made by Ukrainian refugee Anzhela Denysenko, who moved to the United States five months ago.

Denysenko is raising money for thermal cameras for a relative’s Ukrainian anti-aircraft battalion.

“Many people support us here,” she said.


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