Heikinpaiva: Michigan’s Weird, Wonderful, Finnish Winter Festival

finnish kicksled

Throughout most of the country, the middle of February signals winter’s last call. But in a certain tiny island at the top of the world (or at least at the top of the Midwest), it means the season is just hitting its peak.

Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is a landscape of snow-shaggy evergreens, pearly sunsets, and sub-zero temperatures that will put hair on your chest. Life here revolves around the weather patterns dictated by Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. A Keweenaw winter combines the midwest’s legendary winter storms with “lake effect” snow, smothering this isolated region in an average 12 feet of powder.

That extra helping of snow means world-class Nordic skiing, the best alpine skiing in the Midwest, and guaranteed conditions for snowmobilers, snowshoers, and backcountry enthusiasts a good six weeks longer than anywhere else nearby. But for the miners and lumbermen of past centuries, it meant no travel for local residents between December and March.

For this reason, midwinter in the Keweenaw is an occasion for a weird and wonderful festival known as Heikinpaiva. Originating from a traditional Finnish saint’s day long since abandoned by the old country, this festival gives the typically stoic Yoopers a chance to loosen up in some old-fashioned tomfoolery.

Lasting nearly a month, Heikinpaiva includes an array of outdoor games, community gatherings, and customs dredged up from the ancient past. Here are some of the weirdest and most wonderful highlights from this month-long winter extravaganza in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

All images courtesy of Chelsea Batten/The Manual.


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