When I received the press release from the Lakehead Chapter of the Minnesota Finish American Historical Society (MFAHS) about their 41st annual gathering at the Duluth Holiday Inn for Pikkujoulu (“little Christmas”}, I asked my 100 percent Finnish-American mother if she would like to go with me.
She said yes, so I followed directions from the press release and made a phone call to order tickets. This was on the Monday before the Sunday, Dec. 4 event, which was also the deadline to buy tickets.
I spoke with a nice lady named Donna, who informed me that I could write a check and deliver it to her mother-in-law, Virginia, who lives in Hermantown.
That all went fine, and I called my mom when I got home to tell her I had paid for the tickets. When told her I had to drive to Hermantown to pay rather than paying at the door the day of, her response was, “Sounds like Finlanders.”
We arrived just as things were about to start at 12:30 pm in the Holiday Inn’s Great Lakes Ballroom, with everyone standing for the national anthems of Finland and the U.S.
The room was brimming with people. Approximately eight people were assigned to 26 round tables. We were assigned to table 25 which was already occupied by a youngish couple, a married couple and their adult daughter from St. Paul (this trio’s last name was Hill, which, surprising to me, was one of the most common names of event attendees – there were eight Hills there), and a woman named Linda who happened to be an acquaintance of my mom’s.

Then we heard a sort of report from James Johnson, honorary consul of Finland, headquartered in Virginia, Minn., who spoke about Finland’s advances in artificial intelligence.
Next was “dinner.” Or that was how it was listed on the program. For me it would be brunch. I’d had a pot of coffee for breakfast and that was it.
I couldn’t imagine what would be on the menu for this Finnish event, but I thought of the meat and potato meals of my Finnish grandparents, and, so, was not surprised to see we were having a couple slices of ham, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and a very delicious and delicately spiced stuffing or dressing made with the traditional Finn root veg, the humble but tasty rutabaga.

As our desserts of finely sliced slabs of cake were being delivered, the Doty Family Trio took the stage for a beautiful performance of Finnish/Scandinavian folk tunes. Along with her masterful accordion playing, Jeanne Doty put the music into context for the listeners.
After a brief annual meeting of Lakeland Chapter MFAHS and door prizes (we didn’t win – I never do), there was a video tribute to the Jarvenpaa Singers, a Duluth-based group that sang in concerts throughout the region the past 30 years, but decided to pull the plug this year.
The event ended with everyone standing to sing a Finnish seasonal song and “Silent Night,” as well as “Song of Peace” and “Finalndia.”
Throughout the event, singing played a big role, and throughout you could hear people at tables singing along in both English and Finnish.
On our way home my mom mentioned that she had been thinking of changing back to her maiden name, Impola, and then surprised me by saying growing up in Duluth, she didn’t like being known as a Finn “because of all the jokes and people called them communists.”
That may be, but we both came away wanting to know more about Finland’s history.

(editor's note: Whenever I tried to upload one of the photos I took at the event, it loaded upside down. Couldn't figure out the problem, hence the flag, which looks the same either way.)