I created a couple blog stories last year about the Heikinpäivä Mid-Winter Festival, so I wasn’t going to film or write anything about this year’s fest. I didn’t want to appear biased toward this one particular festival or lazy that I only cover the same Finnish-American events year after year. Then I realized I should be documenting and sharing all my Finnish-American experiences, regardless if I’ve done them already. I just need to find a new aspect, or a new way, to share.
Heikinpäivä is created each year through the efforts of the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock. Hancock is 60 miles north of my home, in the Keweenaw Peninsula, also known as the Copper Country. I involuntarily volunteered to join the committee last year, even though I live an hour away, after I was the Hankookin Heikki, the grand marshal of the parade and festivities. I’m happy to help where I can.
This year was special. It was the 20th Heikinpäivä Festival. Check out my earlier stories here and here for the history of the festival and its mission. This year I rode in the wagon with some of the past Hankookin Heikki’s, so I took photos of the spectators, instead of the parade. They are the reason why there's a parade, so why not!
Two years of attending and I ended up in the parade both years. I have a feeling I’ll never be a spectator. Committee members are encouraged to suit up. Dancing and marching down Hancock’s main street are many costumed characters symbolizing Finnish and Finnish-American mythology and folklore. I’m calling dibs now on a bear costume next year. The brown bear is the national animal of Finland and an old Finnish folk saying states winter is half over when “the bear rolls onto his other side.”
I wore a traditional Finnish dress from the Heritage Center archives; long colorful skirt, white blouse, blue vest and tan leather boots. With three thermal layers underneath it plus hand and foot warmers, I stayed surprisingly warm all day. It was a chilly weekend. The afternoon high temperature was 0.
Since I created videos about the festival last year, I practiced my photography skills to document the event and people this year. The colorful cast of characters and spectators contrasted beautifully against the pure white snow.
I had the most fun photographing the wife carrying competition. A contest with very Finnish roots and one you will find at most Finnish-American festivals. The competition is said to stem from early folklore of thieves sneaking into villages at night and stealing wives. Finland hosts the World Championship Wife-Carrying competition every year.
The Heikinpäivä committee puts their own spin on the race. In lieu of a competition of strength and agility, theirs is more tongue in cheek and the “obstacles” reflect a typical Copper Country Sunday. New this year, participants had to rake the forest (as all good Finnish stewards of the forest do). From there they had to shake out the rag rugs, swat each other in the sauna and pour coffee for visitors. And of course, carry your wife from obstacle to obstacle. Well someone must be carried. Rules are lax, a reflection of the laid-back spirit of the area. Finlandia University students got into the spirit and the winning team wasn’t your traditional husband and wife duo.
After the entertainment outside concluded, I went indoors to eat, buy raffle tickets and shop. Inside the hall, vendors sold Finnish wares, hand crafted items, Finnish foods, jewelry, rag rugs, books and art at the tori. Tori is the Finnish word for market. I spent all the cash I had with me, and then some. It’s a good thing and a bad thing that vendors now accept credit/debit cards and I can go swipe happy throughout the tori. Actually, the first place I was awed by tori vendors being able to accept plastic was in Finland. Which was wonderful because I only had so many Euros on me!
Later in the afternoon I helped the ladies in the kitchen prep food for the evening dinner and dance. And taste test all the cookies to make sure they were delicious enough to serve. They were. Heikki Lunta (translates to Hank Snow, the winter shaman of the U.P.) graced the Copper Country with his presence while we were in the kitchen, so I had to leave early and drive 60 miles home. Snowflakes were falling faster than I could brush them off my car. I took some words of wisdom someone posted on Facebook earlier this winter – a photo with Yooper mottos – “go slow and follow the plow”. It was slow, but the highway was clear of snow drifts and I made it home safely.
The bear has rolled over, the Heikinpaiva Mid-Winter festival is through. We’re halfway to spring. Plenty of time left to snowshoe.
More of my favorite photos of the festival below.
Kristin Ojaniemi is a Finnish-American filmmaker, video creator and proud Yooper full of sisu.