Celebrating the Region and the Culture: Three Heikkis overtake Hancock
In 1999, the nationally active Finnish-American cultural promotion organization Project 34 scheduled a conference in Hancock, Michigan. Local organizers decided to add festival activities to conclude the conference. Coinciding with the conference was Finland’s traditional midwinter day known as Heikinpäivä (Henry’s Day) after the Catholic patron saint of Finland, St. Henrik. Organizers soon created a festival based around this day, and the traditional folklore surrounding it.
With the name of the day, and the increasing popularity of Heikki Lunta, it only made sense to add him to the festivities. Soon, too, an honorary title of Hankooki Heikki (Hancock’s Heikki) was also created to round out the list. Hankooki Heikki is chosen each year in recognition of locals who have most contributed to the Finnish-American culture. As James Kurtti, one of the festival’s founders says, “There seems to be a lot of Heikkis… it just turned out that way.”
Because Finland is no longer a Catholic society, the celebration of Catholic saint days is no longer practiced. This day continues to be associated with Saint Henrik through its use as the secular name day for Heikki or Henrik. On this day, people with this name may receive cards and gifts, much like on one’s birthday. When most Finns were still engaged in agriculture, this day was also recognized as the midpoint of winter. Finns would use this day to take stock of their winter supplies, ensuring that at least half were left in order to survive the long winter. Popular folk sayings reflecting this tradition were brought by the immigrants to America, where they exist among community elders to the present day. In Finland, these folk sayings are now moribund, if not extinct. Three of the most common such sayings are as follows:
In addition to celebrating local traditions no longer existent in Finland, and a saint no longer recognized, Heikinpäivä highlights the strong presence of Finnish culture in the region, recognizing folk culture, high arts, and even silly modern attractions in Finland, including the annual wife-carrying contest and the boot-throwing contest. Although Heikinpäivä’s primary association is with St. Henrik, it is impossible to dissociate Heikki Lunta from this festival. His inclusion in the festival highlights the strong ties between Finnish and Finnish-American folk traditions, and the continued use of Finnish ethnicity in a post-immigrant culture.
COPYRIGHT:© Hilary Virtanen 2006
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