By Janis Motl
Midwinter is approaching rapidly and for the small community of Hancock, Michigan that means it is once again time for the Heikinpäivä Festival.
Heikinpäivä is named after St. Henrik, who traveled Finland in the 1100s to spread the word of Christianity to Finnish natives, according to Hilary Virtanen, Finnish studies instructor. When St. Henrik was martyred on January 19, it became his “name day”—much like we in America observe as a birthday. This mid-winter day became a time to take inventory of essential items one would need to survive until milder weather would approach in spring.
Virtanen said St. Henrik’s Day is no longer an annual day marking the period of taking inventory due to the decline of agriculture in Finland.
However, in the Copper Country, St. Henrik’s Day is celebrated by a festival called Heikinpaiva, created in 1999. Jim Kurtti, director of the Finnish American Heritage Center, said the inspiration came from “wanting to find new and different events for entertainment.” Kurtti said that as the festival celebrates its 15th anniversary, it has grown into one of the largest winter festivals in the region.
Today, Heikinpäivä covers a period of approximately two and a half weeks, and features Finnish Enrichment classes such as “squeaky cheese” making, tablet weaving, and 5-string kantele music lessons. The festival will conclude on Saturday, January 25 with all-day events scheduled, including a parade in downtown Hancock, a wife-carrying contest, and kick-sledding. These events are scheduled to take place at the Finnish American Heritage Center and Finlandia’s Quincy Green.
David Maki, Assistant Editor for the Finnish American Reporter, has also been heavily involved in the process. He has helped to organize this event for the past twelve years, and because of his efforts and dedication to promoting Finnish culture he has been selected to receive the festival’s highest honor of Hankooki Heikki (the Heikki of Hancock). Maki will don the traditional Hankooki Heikki robe and crown and have the distinct pleasure of riding atop a very large kick sled and waving a copper scepter during the festival parade.
To be chosen as Hankooki Heikki is “quite an honor” and “humbling,” Maki said. “I prefer to be behind the scenes but getting noticed is certainly flattering.”
Maki said dozens of volunteers work to make this event a success as well.
From volunteering time to do registrations for events to being in the parade, it really is a celebration for the community, by the community.
If you are interested in a schedule of events please visit the Heikinpäivä website at www.pasty.com/heikki/sthenrik.html, or visit their facebook page.