From wife carrying contests to polar bear dives, people in Hancock will be celebrating this weekend. Why? Because it's halfway through winter and time for Heikinpäivä, a celebration of the Finnish culture in Michigan.
According to Dave Maki, the assistant editor of the Finnish American Reporter, Finland only began celebrating Heikinpäivä after the Finnish-Americans started the tradition here in Michigan.
“More so, the day was just associated with folklore that was believed to be the halfway point of winter, where you should have half of your hay left in the barn,” Maki said. “And it’s also the time when the bear who’s hibernating in his den rolls over to his other side, indicating that winter’s half done.”
Hancock has transformed Heikinpäivä into an all-inclusive celebration of winter’s midpoint.
“Our festival very much fits the cliché of something for everyone,” Maki said. The festival "appeals to all of the senses.”
It features food, music, dance, outdoor games, indoor activities, Finnish tradition and Finnish-American tradition enrichment classes, the polar bear dive and the wife carrying contest.
“I hope more and more people will get a chance to experience this, because it’s a wonderful event and you don’t have to be Finnish to enjoy it,” he said. “You can be Finnish for the day.”
The Upper Peninsula houses the only counties in all of the United States where Finnish is the principle heritage, said Maki. Between 33 and 47% of residents of Hancock and its adjacent counties claim Finnish ancestry. It’s for this reason that Heikinpäivä is so unique. It’s a Finnish-American tradition.
To hear more about the festival's wife carrying contest and Finnish food, listen above.