A great day for sliding and all things Finnish at Laskiainen (with video)If there were any farmers among the hundreds of people gathered for the Laskiainen festival Saturday, they should expect a bumper crop in the upcoming growing season.
By: Andrew Krueger, Duluth News Tribune
PALO — If there were any farmers among the hundreds of people gathered for the Laskiainen festival Saturday, they should expect a bumper crop in the upcoming growing season.
The annual Finnish sliding festival has roots in a centuries-old Finnish tradition linking the growth of flax — a crop that can be used to make linen — and other crops to the distance sliders can guide their toboggans down an icy run.
“The farther you slide down the hill, the taller your flax will grow. Or if you fall off your sled, off your toboggan, well, you may have crushed flax next year,” said Gerry Kangas, a member of the event’s organizing committee. “There’s a lot of folklore, superstitious, magic things, all (pertaining) to crops.”
This year, under bright sunshine and blue skies and with relatively balmy temperatures, many sliders shot down the dual runs behind the Loon Lake Community Center and far out onto the frozen lake — a good sign, if they’re gardeners.
“It’s beautiful out here — it doesn’t get any better than this in the winter, in February,” said first-time Laskiainen attendee Ryan Bjork of Embarrass, who had just completed his third trip down the slide with his son Jake, 11. “It’s as good as it gets.”
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Laskiainen in Palo. In 1937, the first year, similar events were held at 19 rural schools around St. Louis County. Aside from a gap of several years around the time of World War II, the tradition at Palo has continued to this day — the only one of the 19 local Laskiainen festivals to endure.
“There are many layers to Laskiainen,” Kangas said of the festival’s heritage — the “sliding” refers to going down the icy hill, as well as sliding into the Lenten season, and sliding from the chores of winter, such as spinning fiber from flax, to the tasks of spring, such as weaving that fiber into linen.
Laskiainen — pronounced LUS-key-eye-nen — also draws crowds for Finnish food; pea soup and pancakes are two traditional favorites. There also is music, and artisans and people demonstrating traditional Finnish crafts.
It’s an event where neighbors gather to enjoy mojakka, where far-flung natives come back to reacquaint themselves with their roots, and where people with no connections whatsoever to the Iron Range or Finland come to brave the bone-rattling, teeth-chattering slide done by thousands of others for generations.
“It’s fun to hear people from all over — they come and they’ve never been here before and they love it,” Kangas said. “I can’t believe with some of these people the distance they come because they want to come home — sometimes it’s like a homecoming. They want to come and see this.”
Laskiainen continues today at the Loon Lake Community Center, on County Highway 100 about 10 miles south of Aurora. From Duluth, take County Highway 4 north about 50 miles to Highway 100, then turn right and go another 1½ miles.