HANCOCK — The frigid temperatures of old man winter might be here for a little while, but folks in the Keweenaw Peninsula don’t let that get in the way of some good old-fashioned Finnish fun.
Next week kicks of the much anticipated Heikenpaiva at Finlandia University.
The bear will soon be turning over as old Finnish legend has it, meaning that winter is nearing the half way point. That was cause for celebration in 1999 and Heikenpaiva was born. The festival was created by the city of Hancock’s Finnish Theme Committee as a way to fight the winter blues and the festival’s success has led to the celebration that we know today.
“It’s typically a cold and dark time of year so we certainly change that by making it bright and colorful and family friendly and give plenty of reasons to celebrate,” said David Maki, chairman of the Finnish Theme Committee of Hancock.
The annual event features four weeks of festivities that includes dance classes, dinners and film presentations at the Finnish American Heritage Center. One of the featured films is called “The Fencer” by Klaus Haro.
The festival is well known for many of its outdoor adventures that will take place towards the end of the month, including a wife carrying contest, kick-sled races and the much anticipated Polar Bear Dive, where thrill seekers take a quick dip in the frozen waters of the Portage Canal.
“It’s become a right of passage for some college students who are from outside the area to prove their U.P. Medal. There’s been people from age 18 all the way up to age 80 who’ve taken part and everyone who’s dared to do it has said what an exhilarating time it is,” said Maki.
The activity was skipped last year due to unsafe ice conditions.
Other activities throughout the month also include a cheese making workshop, and many music workshops focusing on songwriting, harmonies, and one that teaches people to play the Jouhikko, a primitive three-string guitar that dates back to the 14th century.
“It’s definitely a family festival and we hope that everyone will take this opportunity to embrace winter because it’s certainly here for us this year and rather than let it get the best of you. Get outside and make the best of winter,” said Maki.
A more detailed schedule of events can be found HERE.