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POLL: What's your favorite holiday?

Reporter Matt Lambert (right) circa 1999 or 2000, dressed as Batman. His brother Taylor is a Power Ranger (he thinks).

As folks dig out their green garb in preparation for St. Patrick's Day on March 17, the Pierce County Herald newsroom decided to write about our favorite holidays throughout the year.

Read about our picks below and be sure to vote for your favorite holiday in the poll.

St. Urho’s Day is a link to my past

Sarah Young, editor

Happy St. Urho’s Day!

What the heck is St. Urho’s Day, you ask? If you’re Finnish-American like I am (50 percent to be exact), you certainly know the legend of St. Urho.

St. Urho’s Day is celebrated March 16, a day before the green beer-drinking hullaballoo known as St. Patrick’s Day. The celebration originated in northern Minnesota in the 1950s. There have been “discussions” whether the legend came from Bemidji resident Sulo Havumaki’s tall tales, or from the yarns of Richard Mattson of Virginia (the Minnesota Iron Range city, not the state).

Regardless, the legend has grown to the point where it’s celebrated in the United States, Canada and even Finland.

This tribute to St. Urho stands in Menagha, Minn. St. Urho allegedly chased grasshoppers out of Finland, thus saving the grape crops and jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. He did this by shouting "Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" (roughly translated: "Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!").

The feast day is celebrated by wearing royal purple and nile green (which I am right now). I am very glad St. Urho saved the grapes, because I do enjoy a glass of wine now and then. Pesky grasshoppers!

St. Urho celebrations are scattered throughout northern Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.The biggest celebration is in Finland, Minn. Typically you’ll see grapes and grasshoppers as part of the decor surrounding this honored saint.

It sounds like a silly holiday, and yes, it is. But it brightens the long, long winters and gives hardy Finns a reason to kick up their heels, which these taciturn people are not known for doing.

There is a far deeper reason this holiday is special to me. It’s a connection to a family from which I was separated for 20 years.

My dad was born near Makinen, Minn., on the Minnesota Iron Range. He and my mother divorced shortly after I was born, and he died when I was almost 3. I never knew him.

Family matters are often complicated, and mine were no exception. I didn’t meet my dad’s family until I was 20 years old. I’ll never forget that day. It was straight out of a talk show. My grandpa Ero had tears streaming down his cheeks, my cousins and I were hugging and talking all at once. We were reunited. It was one of the best days of my life. A hole that had been inside for so long was finally filled, questions were answered and I learned about where I came from. My Finnish side of the family.

I also learned I had a half-brother, who was living in Chisolm, Minn. Sadly, he died last April before I could meet him in person, but I was able to attend his funeral and meet his mother. Again, one of the most special, albeit sad, days of my life. But answers that were so long forthcoming finally were found.

So to me, St. Urho’s Day connects me to my Finnish-American side of the family, to the East Range blood flowing through my veins. I have no idea if my dad or brother celebrated this mythical day, but I know they loved me and I loved them. So my daughter and I, we celebrate St. Urho’s Day.


Halloween: More than just costumes and candy

Matt Lambert, reporter

There’s nothing quite like Halloween night.

Think about it: the crisp Fall weather is still in full effect, with the crunch of leaves underneath your shoes or whatever type of footwear you’re sporting while running through the neighborhood. It’s not quite cold enough to wear a coat, but maybe a nice pullover. Kids are running around resembling ghouls, goblins and maybe a Ghostbuster or two.

It’s a wonderful night for so many reasons.

One, you get candy. Not just a Snickers bar from the Holiday station you felt slightly guilty about picking up after a quick jog around the neighborhood. Not just a caramel from your great-grandmother’s house because you were a “good boy.”

No. Halloween promises an obscene amount of candy. So much candy dentists are able to stay open for another year. So much candy the obesity rate in the country likely doubles (that’s not factually accurate, I have no idea).

It’s an incredible experience to walk around dressed as Freddy Krueger, approach a neighbor’s house, and request sugary goodness from them with no charge.

I know there are some lame neighbors as well. I had a neighbor who passed out toothbrushes and apples. This is not amateur hour, Dan!

I digress. Halloween was always special to me. It was a night where my family’s home would be decked out in fake cobwebs, fake severed head lawn ornaments, and “Monster Mash” playing on a loop.

Once my candy was collected from the neighborhood I’d get to watch a scary movie. Usually multiple. Something like “Poltergeist,” “The Exorcist” or “Gremlins.” (Don’t sleep on the “Gremlins” as a horror flick. If you were in that situation, you’d be scared.)

Between consuming my year’s amount of sugar and little Ewok-type monsters terrorizing a city because they ate after midnight, something very special happened to me on Halloween: It’s when I first started dating my wife.

It was 2010. I was 16, she was 17. We both went to the same high school and decided to have our first date at my house on Halloween.

My mother gave me some solid advice: “Don’t screw this up,” and we were off. We handed out candy to children, watched scary movies and had a great time.

Later that night, she was leaving and I mustered up the courage to ask her to be my girlfriend. Surprisingly, she agreed.

To seal the deal, I leaned in for what I thought was going to be an earth shattering kiss; she would later reveal how awful it was (she claims that I’ve gotten better) and the rest is history.

Each year I look forward to Halloween more than Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. It’s been a special holiday for me since I was a young child running around the streets in a werewolf mask to now, giving children the candy they deserve. Not toothbrushes or apples. Dan.


St. Patrick’s Day: Bootstraps mentality

Jalen Knuteson, reporter

The holiday has taken on a whole other meaning over time, just as any holiday does; but St. Patrick’s Day is a reminder of the American pick yourself up by your bootstraps mentality.

My great-grandmother came from Ireland when she was 16-years-old. There weren’t other options in Ireland. Much like the Irish before her, it was better to hop on a ship across the bitter bowl of tears that was the Atlantic and head for a chance at building a better life in the United States.

The Irish were greeted by hatred and discrimination. But they endured.

St. Patrick’s Day was formerly a religious holiday, but, to me, it is now a sign of the benefits for a country that immigration can create. It was a 15-year-old Irish woman that first came through the gates of Ellis Island 125 years ago.

It is a remarkable feat that the Irish have gone from the discrimination of employers posting Help Wanted signs regularly accompanied by Irish Need Not Apply to boasting 70 million Americans that are proud to claim Irish heritage.

Some people say 70 million Americans claim an Irish heritage because no one actually knows much about their heritage. I think it’s just because people see the Irish as a jolly good lot of hooligans.

It wasn’t until I was old enough to be served the finer, more refreshing Irish customs that I realized the struggles that the Irish went through. Some of it was self-inflicted, but much of the Irish strife was a product of centuries old religious rivalries.

Only in this country, though, were the English, Irish, protestants, and irish catholics able to set aside their differences.

Every year my family celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, which is where my original attachment came to the holiday. My grandmother, who was born in Baltimore and is one-half Irish depending upon who is calculating it, married a man born on March 19 who was a European mix.

I can’t get a clear answer as to whether we were originally getting together to celebrate my grandpa’s birthday and it became a St. Patrick’s celebration, or if it was always a St. Patrick’s Day celebration and his birthday happened to be two days later.