2018 : Heikinpäivä Celebrated By Finns Everywhere, Including Hancock, Michigan

January 27, 2018 all-day

The crazy Finns of the Hancock love Heikinpäivä so much that it lasts the whole month of January  (and even longer in 2018). They even have a Facebook page so you can keep track of what’s going on.

A little history : In 1999, the Finnish Theme Committee of the City of Hancock created a new Finnish-American celebration – Heikinpäivä. The celebration’s themes are taken from Finnish folk sayings associated with the name day for Heikki (Henrik’s day, 19 January). By far, the Finns make up the largest ethnic group of Michigan’s Copper Country. In Hancock approximately 40 percent of the population claimed Finnish ancestry in the most recent federal census.

Finnish speaking residents of the Copper Country still recall the proverbs their parents and grandparents brought with them from Finland. In particular, the weather proverbs connected with St. Henrik’s Day have been retained in the Hancock area, where huge amounts of winter snow are the norm. “Karhu kylkeänsä kääntää” (The bear rolls onto his other side), “Heikki heinät jakaa” (Heikki divides the hay) and ultimately, “Talven selkä poikki” (winter’s back is broken). The bear – an ancient Finnish and Saame symbol — figures well in the celebration, as do Saame and winter sports themes.

Heikinpäivä organizers keep a watchful eye on the celebration’s uniquely ethnic flavor. Finnish crafts, music, food, films and games provide something for everyone. Although a Hancock City event, the Heikinpäivä spirit has spilled into neighboring communities. From Calumet to South Range, activities abound.

There’s something for everyone. Follow the links to next annual Heikinpäivä and plan to be there!

Prior to the current Heinkinpaiva festival the Negaunee Irontown Association also celebrated Heikki Lunta Winterfest around January 19th for almost forty years. Click here for some background. The festival was canceled in 2015 because of funding challenges.

The festival celebrated the legendary (and pretty much made up) Finnish show god who is said to have the ability to perform a dance causing snowfall. I came across the original version of the Heikki Lunta Snowdance Song on a cool blog called Letters for George. In his Heikki Lunta letter, he explains:

There’s a little town called Atlantic Mine about five miles away from Houghton where they hold an annual snowmobile race every winter. In 1970 the race was at risk of being cancelled because there wasn’t any snow. The race was sponsored by radio station WMPL in nearby Hancock. With no snow in sight, one of the station’s salesmen, David Riutta, composed a song called the “Heikki Lunta Snowdance Song.” It took him about twenty minutes to invent the lyrics. “Heikki Lunta,” it turns out, means “Henry Snow” in Finnish, and Riutta chose the name because his favorite musician was country western singer Hank Snow.

Heikki Lunta was said to live in the back woods of a Finnish farming community south of Houghton, and he reportedly had the ability to do a dance which would cause snow to fall from the skies. Riutta’s song asked “Heikki Lunta” to do his dance to make it snow in time for the snowmobile race. They started playing the song on WMLP, it immediately became a local hit, and, lo and behold, it soon began snowing. According to local lore, it snowed and snowed for days. So much so that they had to cancel the snowmobile race.

So if you’re in the Upper Peninsula town of Hancock, right across the river from Houghton, you may want to check out Heikinpaiva, or at least some of the delicacies.

Lihapullia is Finnish meatballs. Lanttusose is mashed rutabaga. Both are usually on the menu for the Finnish buffet, which you guessed it, will probably be served at Finlandia University on that day.

That’s just the tip of the Finnish iceberg. There’s usually a parade, followed by the opening of the House of Snow on the campus. The House of Snow is a structure built entirely out of snow and ice, and in the past they’re even brought in an expert from Finland to make sure it’s done properly.

Other events often include sales of ethnic crafts, foods and Finnish items, a ski race, a Finnish cooking course, and a polar bear swim on the Hancock waterfront.

Oh, I almost forgot the dessert at the buffet. It’s kermakakku (cream cake), served with suomalaista kahvia (Finnish coffee).

For more information, go to http://www.pasty.com/heikki/ .

Note:   Due to the Covid Pandemic, Heikinpaiva will not be held during January 2021.

Dan Roblee, “Heikinpaiva’s here: Midwinter festival packed with weekend events”, Houghton Mining Gazette, January 29, 2016

Kurt Hauglie, “Heikinpaiva is extended this year“, Houghton Mining Gazette, January 21, 2016

Source : Absolute Michigan, including a video of Heikki Lunta by Da Yoopers.

Zach Jay, Heikki Lunta Winterfest offers fun for everyone, Mining Journal, January 16, 2014.