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Finnish Field Trip: Laskiainen Sledding Festival

Laskiainen is a celebration with Finnish or­igins, and is often described as a “mid-win­ter sliding festival”. The Finnish verb laskea means to descend or slide. In pagan times, this would be considered a spring festival where we celebrate “sliding” from winter into spring. The days are getting a little longer and it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming growing season and what you may intend to plant this year.

Laskiainen, which takes place about 40 miles north of Duluth on Loon Lake in Palo Min­nesota, is the longest-running cultural festi­val in the United States. The festival draws thousands of people from all around the Iron Range, Twin Cities, Wisconsin, Michigan’s upper peninsula and even as far as Canada. It is held in the beginning of February and this year marks the 85th year of this tradition.

It first began back in the 1930s by Finnish immigrants preserving the traditions of their homeland in the new world. Every year, vol­unteers work hard on building up this incred­ible hill for folks young and old to slide down, as well as come together and cook delicious authentic Finnish food. There is yellow pea soup and cardamom bread among other tra­ditional foods. Live music is played, artisans selling traditional Finnish crafts, carriage rides, games, including basketball tourna­ments, a pancake breakfast Sunday morning, and lots and lots of memories made. Legend has it that the farther you slide on the sled at the bottom of the hill the better luck you will have for your flax crop that year. Flax is what was used to spin linen.

“I’ve been going there since I was a child,” says Steven Solekela, who grew up on his fam­ily’s farm about 5 miles from where the festi­val happens. Steven is now an accomplished musician and has been present at the festival and performing since he was in 10th grade around 2013. Steven plays traditional Finnish music as well as many other styles.

The Laskiainen Festival is so important and valuable because not only does it provide a fun-filled weekend for individuals and fam­ily, but it preserves memories, culture and old customs. “It’s just the most epic sliding hill I’ve ever been to,” says Honor Schauland. “I remember going there as a kid and being amazed.” Honor continues to attend the festi­val every year and brings her daughter as well.

Honor works with the Friends of Finland Community Organization, which is based out of the Clair Nelson Community Center located at 6866 Cramer Road. The commu­nity center has an incredible youth program that has been funding a field trip for locals to make it out to the Laskiainen Festival since 2016. This year, Andrew Deyette, a coordi­nator for the Finland Area Youth Program, worked together with Stacey Holman of North Shore Area Partners to make it happen again. The funds used came from a new Age to Age grant that helped provide transporta­tion to the Finnish Festival, as well as $20 dol­lars to youth 5-17 years old in attendance to spend while at the event. “It’s really awesome we are able to provide this for the community, otherwise I don’t think folks would be able to make it down there,” says Honor.

There were 2 buses carrying 47 people to the festival leaving from both the Clair Nelson Center in Finland and the William Kelley School in Silver Bay. Half the riders were children and the other half were adults and seniors. Age to Age receives funding from organizations such as the Northland Foundation and Americorps to support and encourage intergenerational outings and cultural experiences. The goal: to have youth and seniors interact and share stories and space so that they can learn from each other. This is exactly what this experience provided. There were smiles all around as they enjoyed eating traditional Finnish food together and shopped at the local Finnish artisan market.

This field trip is just one of the many won¬derful opportunities the Finland Area Youth Program is involved in while providing for the greater Finland community. One of the regular Youth Program activities is their weekly Youth Night which welcomes kids ages 5-18 to come enjoy free play at the Clair Nelson Community Center every Thursday from 6-9pm. There are plenty of crafts and activities available for kids of all ages, including lots of homemade snacks provided – and it’s all free!

There are currently anywhere between 25 and 45 kids that come to Youth Night every week from surrounding areas like Finland, Silver Bay, Murphy City, up the Shore towards Grand Marais and beyond. “We’re always happy to welcome new kids into the program and give their parents the night off,” says youth night staff Andrew Deyette.

If you are interested in having your kid(s) attend Youth Night in Finland, you can call the community center at 218-353-0030 and ask for Andrew or Honor. “The best way to be part of it is to just show up on a Thursday night between 6 and 9 pm,” says Andrew. All are welcome.

Katee Rose
Katee Rose
Katee Rose grew up on the Great Lakes in upstate New York. She left home on a bicycle and embarked on a cross country trip to California following her graduation from college. This trip was the beginning of many more that eventually landed her in countries across Europe, Canada, Mexico and Central America. Learning the cultures, cuisines, history and traditions from the communities she’s spent time in around the world. Katee is passionate about community and social justice movements. As well as engaging with many forms of art and music. For the past 5 years she has called the North Shore home and has been enjoying homesteading a small slice of land in the Northwoods. She is involved in many community efforts around local food, building capacity for a more sustainable future and supporting the elders in the area.
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