Heikinpäivä Returns After Two-Year COVID-19 Hiatus


Heikki Lunta, the Finnish-American Snow God character throws snow on parade-goers at Heikinpäivä festival

Catherine Huston

The Finnish-American Mid-Winter Festival Heikinpäivä made a return to Hancock after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival, which is unique to the area, is a celebration of the Finnish heritage and culture prevalent in the Keweenaw, as some forty percent of the population are of Finnish ancestry. The festivities began mid-January, and are set to end mid-February, featuring snowflake sewing challenges, inkle band weaving classes, a “Hobby Horse Hoedown,” and a Finnish cookie workshop, amongst other events. 

While events happened all month, the festival occurred Saturday, Jan. 28, kicked off by a parade down Quincy St. in Hancock. The parade featured several local organizations and groups and traditional Finnish mythological figures. Included in the local groups were Yoopers for Ukraine, the Michigan Tech Huskies Pep Band, Finlandia Athletics and the Finnish Theme Committee. Traditional Finnish figures included Väinämöinen, the main character of the Kalevala, the Finnish National poem. Other Kalevala characters present included Louhi, the Swan of Tuonela, Lemminkäinen, Lemminkäinen’s mother, Saint Henrik, whom the festival is named after, Saint Lucia and Sámi shaman. Each represents a part of Finnish tradition and folklore. All the characters were introduced to festival-goers by parade announcer Todd VanDyke, and had informational flyers posted on select storefronts downtown. 

Immediately following the parade, there were several other festivities. Festival-goers were encouraged to join a traditional circle dance with the costumed parade participants, known as karhunpeijäiset. Once the dance was complete, a Yooper-style wife-carrying contest began, mimicking a Saturday in the Copper Country, with stations for cleaning, saunaing and seeing guests. Also available for use was a traditional whipsled, known as a vipuklekka, as well as kicksleds. In addition to this, there were Tori markets in the Finnish American Heritage Center and the United Methodist Church. 

The festival found its beginnings in 1999 when the Hancock Finnish Theme Committee created Heikinpäivä to celebrate ethnic identity. Since then, the event has grown to be a substantial attraction and has promoted Finnish culture in the area. When asked what the festival meant to the community, VanDyke cited it as an “opportunity for [the community] to first preserve the wonderful Finnish heritage and keep alive some of the mythology that goes along with it.” He continued, stating, “it’s a chance to break out in the middle of the winter and enjoy something and have some fun.”