Sharon OJanpa Mackey, Staff Reporter

Jeff1Welcome to the Finnish Heritage Museum (FHM) in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. Because Finland is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Program Director, Ann Pohto, recruited several Museum members to give short talks about well-known Finnish symbols. In total, we will be highlighting eight different symbols, four of which were presented on July 10th, with the remaining four to be discussed at the September meeting of the Museum.

The first presenter was Beverly Lehtinen Harbour, who told us about the Finnish national bird, the whooper (pronounced hooper) swan. This swan is featured on the Finnish one euro coin. The whooper was on the verge of extinction in Finland in the 1950s, but has recovered well, thanks to protection and the campaigning of conservationists. A large bird, this swan has a wingspan of up to 108 inches and a weight up to 31 pounds. These are vocal birds with a call similar to a trumpeter swan. While the swans are still growing, their body weight cannot be supported for any length of time by their legs, so the birds require a large body of water to live in. These swans can migrate thousands of miles to winter homes and then back again in the summer. Whooper swans pair for life, and their young, called cygnets, will stay with them all winter, often being joined by the previous year’s offspring.

Elaine Kangas then shared with the group some facts about the birch tree, the national tree of Finland. The birch is a deciduous tree found in almost all countries with a temperate climate. There are about 60 different species of birch, and they do best in moist soil and full sunlight. The bark of most birch trees peels off in strips and is very desirable as firewood; it burns well, even when frozen or freshly cut. Birch sap is sometimes bottled and sold commercially, or made into birch syrup, which is used like maple syrup for pancakes. Birch bark contains substances that are used in the pharmaceutical industry, and, when soaked in water, can even be formed into a cast for a broken bone. The cosmetic industry uses extracts of birch in the production of soaps and shampoos. Leafy, fragrant silver birch switches are used in a traditional sauna for massage and stimulation of the skin, leaving a relaxing effect on the muscles. What an amazing tree! And I wonder who discovered all these different uses for birch.

Next up was Virpi Pakkala Buck, who told us the story of the kielo, or lily of the valley. In 1967, to commemorate 50 years of independence, the lily of the valley was named the national flower of Finland. The lily of the valley is a low-growing perennial plant with small blossoms and two large oblong leaves. The blooms have a very sweet fragrance, but do not last long. They look like tiny white bells. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but it has also been used as a poison antidote. It is possible to make perfume from the plant, although this can be hard to find. The flowers are very short-lived. They stand for humility, chastity, sweetness, purity, the return of happiness, and bring luck in love. This beautiful little flower is popular for weddings, even though it can be expensive. It was included in the bridal bouquet of Kate Middleton when she married Prince William, and was also chosen by Grace Kelly for her bridal bouquet.

Our last topic was the Eurasian brown bear, presented by Bill Louma. It is the national animal of Finland. The fur is dense and ranges in color from yellow-brown to almost black. A full-grown male bear typically weighs between 550 and 660 pounds, but can reach upwards of 1000 pounds. Females are normally much smaller, ranging from 330 to 550 pounds. About 1500 brown bears live in Finland today, but are hardly ever encountered. The country’s eastern borderlands offer some of the best opportunities in the world to view wild brown bears safely through organized bear-watching trips. In Finland, the bear is considered the king of the forest and features prominently in Finnish mythology. In some areas of Finland, the bear, being sacred, was never hunted. However, the most ancient myths tell of the marriage of the bear and the primordial Mother of All Men. After a successful bear hunt, there was a feast where the bear was reunited with its family through a symbolic wedding. The skull of the bear was a holy object, and placed high on a branch of a sacred tall pine. The killed bear and the primordial Mother of the Bear held a conversation which was believed to make it possible for the spirit of the bear to return to earth to be killed again.

The stories of four more Finnish symbols will be told at our September meeting. It promises to be as spellbinding as this program was. If you are in town, please make plans to join us. As always, you can check our website: www.finnishheritagemuseum.org. to keep on top of the activities in Fairport Harbor, Ohio.

Refreshments were served at the completion of the program. They were provided by Virpi Buck, Anne Pohto, and Bill Luoma. When everyone had had their fill, FHM President, Lasse Hiltunen called the business meeting to order.

Text © Sharon Mackey, Staff Reporter








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