Duluth Finns launch sliding festival

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Laskiaistiistai (“Sliding Tuesday”) is a Finnish celebration held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The festival actually stems from an old pagan tradition to celebrate the beginning of the end of winter in Finland, whose climate is similar to northern Minnesota. As the legend went, whoever sleds farthest down a snowy hill will have the best summer flax harvest.

Palo, Minn., an hour’s drive north of Duluth, has famously held a Sliding Tuesday festival annually for 80 years in early February. This year a group of Duluth-area residents with Finland ties decided to start a tradition here.

“It gives people a reason to celebrate and talk about the culture,” said Mimmu Salmela, one of the event organizers.

The local Laskiaistiistai took place the evening of Feb. 28 at the Snowflake Nordic Ski Center.

Participants hit the hill for some sledding, enjoying the powdery snow that heavily fell all day. (Many cars could be found in ditches along the drive up to Snowflake on Rice Lake Road.) Celebrants then went inside to warm up with the traditional pea and ham soup, pulla (cardamom bread) and other Finnish cuisine. Then out to the hill again.

The event was organized by Finland 100-Northland, a group of area Finns and Finnish-Americans, so named for the nation’s 100th anniversary. Finland was first part of Sweden, then was incorporated into the Russian Empire, then declared itself independent in 1917 after the Russian Revolution.

Under the worldwide anniversary theme, "Yhdessä” (Together), Finland 100-Northland will organize events throughout the year in Duluth area, including Juhannus (Midsummer Night) in June, Northland Mölkky championships (a Finnish throwing game) and Itsenäisyyspäiväjuhla (Independence Day celebration) in December. For information see Finland 100-Northland’s page on Facebook.