Finnish tradition endures at annual Laskiainen festival in northern Minnesota

Laskiainen, a traditional Finnish festival
Laskiainen, a traditional Finnish festival held at Loon Lake Community Center near Palo, Minn., features two iced slides down a hill and onto frozen Loon Lake. This image shows the slides during the 2012 festival.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2012

Crowds are lining up this weekend to take their turn sliding down a pair of icy tracks onto a northern Minnesota lake.

It's the 83rd annual Laskiainen festival held at Loon Lake in Palo, about 40 miles north of Duluth. It was started by Finnish immigrants in the 1930s based off traditions from their homeland.

"Laskiainen, literally translated, means sliding downhill — and you can go with sleds; the kids used to go down on their skates," said Vivian Williams, a coordinator and longtime volunteer for the event. "Custom has it that the young maiden who reaches the slide earliest in the morning of Laskiainen day and makes the longest slide, will get a good yield of tall flax from which to make linen for her hope chest."

Nowadays the festival is less about farming, and more of a reunion for the local community. Williams said the event draws a crowd from around the Iron Range and from as far as the Twin Cities, Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, even Canada.

Video from the 2012 Laskiainen festival near Palo, Minn.
Video from the 2012 Laskiainen festival near Palo, Minn.

She said volunteers and a crew from the Town of White work to construct the slides each year, on a slope behind the Loon Lake Community Center that leads down to frozen Loon Lake.

"They come and build up so that the slides are even higher. They put up a big mound of snow back there. And of course, it's a high hill anyway," Williams said. "We make two slides, and they're iced, and you go as far as you can. And it's quite a ways back up the hill."

The Laskiainen tradition was brought to northern Minnesota by Finnish immigrants, and more-formal Laskiainen festivities started in St. Louis County in 1937. Initially there were 19 celebrations held in various rural communities, but the one in Palo is the only Laskiainen celebration to survive to the present day.

Williams said Palo's Laskiainen has endured because organizers have been open to new ideas while keeping the core traditions intact. The event also features traditional Finnish food, arts and crafts, music, dogsledding and sleigh rides.

Most of the activities are free. The sliding will continue all day Sunday.

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