St. Urho’s Day (Dream Waltz)

We’re in the final stretch of Lent, and in the midst of it each year come three celebrations to take a bit of the edge off of all that spareness. They begin today with St. Urho’s Day, when we are all perhaps a little bit Finnish. I wrote this piece for St. Urho’s Day a couple of years ago. Since then, Finlandia Days has returned to Bryant Park here in Lake Worth, though it has a new name: Midnight Sun Festival. Fair enough. I love the photo of Viola Turpeinin, whose large septa toothed coral, the one she found on Lake Worth Beach, is on display at the Museum of the City of Lake Worth, right downtown between Lake and Lucerne Avenues. And I love her “Dream Waltz”–– Unelma Valssi. I’d like you to love her, too, which is why I’ve chosen to reprint her story today for St. Urho’s Day. And so here we go.


Viola Turpeinen

Here we are in the midst of one of the most interesting weeks of the year, at least in terms of quirky holidays. We have not one, not two, but three saints’ days to celebrate, and while saints’ days are not all that unusual, each one of these is important to a particular ethnic group, which makes for some very big celebrating, especially welcome in these more somber days of Lent.

There is of course the granddaddy of saints’ days: St. Patrick’s Day, on the 17th. Everyone, it it said, is at least a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Two days later brings St. Joseph’s Day: not as widely celebrated, but immensely important to Italy and the Italian American community, and we’ll be eating zeppole, pastries made especially for the day. But ahead of St. Joseph’s Day and ahead of St. Patrick’s Day both comes today’s celebration: St. Urho’s Day. And today, perhaps, everyone is at least a little bit Finnish.

St. Patrick may have driven all the snakes from Ireland, but it was St. Urho who drove all the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the vineyards and the the grape harvest and thus the wine. This he accomplished by proclaiming Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen, or in English, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”

Perhaps you are thinking, “I’m not familiar with this story.” This is because you do not live near Finns. I first heard about St. Urho many years ago here at the local Finlandia Days celebration, which back then was held at Bryant Park on the lagoon here in Lake Worth. In that same park there is a memorial to Finnish war heroes. Up the road on Lake Avenue in the Allstate Insurance Office is the Finnish Consulate. Across the town line in Lantana is the Finnish American Rest Home and Suomi Talo (or Finland House, the Finnish social club) and Palm Beach Bakery, one of a couple of Finnish bakeries in the area. Between Lake Worth and Lantana, we have more Finns here than anywhere else save Finland. And so in this land, where it is so easy to come across folks speaking Spanish and Creole and Portuguese most any day of the week, it is just as easy to hear some Finnish, too. And Finnish tales, like the legend of St. Urho.

And so at Finlandia Days celebration years ago, somewhere in between the Wife Carrying Contest and a performance by the Finnish Accordion Orchestra, I heard the story of the saint who drove the grasshoppers from Finland. He is honored the day before a certain more famous saint who drove the snakes from Ireland. The Irish may wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but on St. Urho’s Day the Finns wear green and purple, too. Chances are good they’ll be listening today to the music of Viola Turpeinen, the legendary Finnish American accordionist who lived here in Lake Worth in the 1950s. She called her house “the home that polka built.” Unelma Valssi is a favorite Viola Turpeinen recording: “Dream Waltz.” So fitting for a spring day in Lake Worth or in Lapland or in Michigan, where she was born in 1909. It’s the kind of music that floats out onto the air through the open windows in this gentle season and lulls us all to springtime dreaming.

Image: Viola Turpeinen and her accordion.


Humpty Dumpties, Welsh Cakes, & Your March Book of Days

Here is March, brought in by St. David’s Day each year, sacred to Wales. Here, too, is the March edition of your Convivio Book of Days Calendar, our monthly gift to you, a nice companion to the blog. It’s a printable PDF on standard US letter size paper. Cover star this month: one of the Humpty Dumpties we make each Easter at home. The recipe comes from a booklet that came with Gold Medal flour back in the 60s. Mom thought back then they would be a nice addition to our Easter celebration, and we’ve been making them ever since. The dough is sweet, yeasty, and lemony; I draw the faces each year. My mom and sister and I will no doubt be making them this year one day during Holy Week, at the end of the month, in the days before Easter. You can make them, too; just follow the recipe in the photograph (click on the photo to make it larger).

Today, though, is St. David’s Day, a fine day to bake Welsh Cakes. More on that later. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus is the St. David’s Day greeting in Welsh, but in English, a simple “Happy St. David’s Day” will do. In Wales, it is a day of national pride and national celebration, similar to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. It is a day of leeks and daffodils. Both are similar in name in Welsh, and of course it is springtime, so the daffodils by now perhaps are blooming beautifully. As for the leeks, this goes back to ancient battle in Wales in which St. David himself is said to have advised the Welsh troops to wear leeks in their caps in order to distinguish themselves from the Saxon troops they were fighting. The leek has since become a symbol of Welsh national pride.

This animosity between the Celtic Welsh and the Saxon-descended English went on for some time. I’m not sure if bakers in England are still making gingerbread taffies for St. David’s Day, but it was a long standing tradition to make these cookies in mockery of the day. The taffies depicted a Welshman riding a goat. There is an old story, as well, of a man on horseback in the north of Wales who comes to a river that he wishes to cross. There was a man working the field nearby, so he asked, in English, if it was safe to cross the river and the laborer replied, in English, that it was indeed. The horse, however, knew better, and refused to pass into the river. So the man upon the horse asked the laborer once again if it was safe to cross the river, this time in Welsh. “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir,” said the man on the ground. “I thought you were an Englishman.”

And so the English made their gingerbread taffies, and hung effigies of Welshmen for St. David’s Day, while in Wales, the folks celebrated in kinder ways, still to this day, with parades and the wearing of national costumes and of course leeks and daffodils. And perhaps the baking of those Welsh Cakes I mentioned earlier. Here’s a recipe for Welsh Cakes from the folks at King Arthur Flour; the one suggestion I might make is that Welsh Cakes often have a scalloped edge, so if you are making them and if you happen to have a scalloped biscuit cutter on hand, you might want to use that one instead of a plain circle. You might serve them with butter or, for a more savory treat, with cheese and leeks.

I love leeks and I love Wales, though I’ve never been there. But I have seen pictures and it looks so utterly beautiful there, and I have heard the language in word and song, and I love the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and the books of Gregynog Press, or Gwasg Gregynog as it’s called there, and while I don’t have a bit of Welsh anything in me, I have long been enthralled by the place. And so Happy St. David’s Day: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Seth and I will soon be adding some new arrivals for Easter to our catalog pages: new pysanky eggs from Poland and Ukraine and new paper Easter eggs from Germany to fill with goodies. Everything handmade by traditional artisans. Check back soon at!



When it is Purim, I think of my friends Georges Banet and Judith Klau, who introduced me to the holiday years ago one Purim with a mitzvah, a good deed. They brought me a Purim box that contained two hamantaschen, pastries in the shape of a triangular hat, filled with all manner of deliciousness (the ones they brought me were prune-filled and poppyseed-filled). The printed box explained the story of Purim, which essentially is this: In ancient Persia, Haman, the royal vizier to the king, plotted to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plot was discovered and foiled by Queen Esther and her father, Mordecai. It’s a story from the Book of Esther.

Each year at Purim, the story is retold in the reading of the Megillah, and each time the name Haman is spoken, the congregation boos and hisses and twirls graggers to drown it out. The pastries are meant to evoke Haman’s hat. And then there are costumes! Purim is a bit like Halloween in springtime: kids dress up in costumes for the day and great parties ensue. The costumes traditionally call to mind the characters of the story, but don’t be surprised to see all kinds of costumes on Purim, which begins this year with the setting sun tonight, this last day of February. Gragger away!

Image: A 1951 photograph of elementary school students in costumes for the Purim parade at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. I love the fairy on the left.