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Feature

Two Tweed Museum employees installing a piece of textile on the wall.

UMD's Tweed Museum of Art presents "Honoring Tradition: Finnish and Sami-Inspired Textiles" through September 1, in conjunction with FinnFest 2008.

Related events include a "Gallery Hop" reception July 24 and July 25 and a gallery talk on July 26. Learn more at the Tweed Museum.

Finnish or not, here we come...

by Pauline Oo

July 21, 2008

You don't have to be from Finland to appreciate the Finnish culture. The Nordic country is home to the sauna, the mobile phone company Nokia, conductor Osmo V?nsk?, composer Jean Sibelius, and the woman who resembles Conan O'Brien--Tarja Halonen, the president of the Republic of Finland.

From July 23 to 27, more than 7,000 people are expected to converge at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC) and other locations around town, including the University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD), for "FinnFest 2008." The celebration of Finnish culture will feature a tori, or traditional Finnish marketplace; a fashion show; a golf scramble; a midnight 5K run; close to 300 lectures and concerts; and a special award ceremony.

The University of Minnesota is presenting Halonen with an honorary degree for public service on Friday, July 25, at 10 a.m. at the DECC. The public ceremony is free, but tickets are required for admission; see FinnFest registration. Halonen, who is Finland's 11th president and first female head of state, began her first term of office in 2000 and was reelected in 2006.

"Her outstanding leadership on behalf of the rights of women and workers and the poor have made her an international role model," says UMD Chancellor Kathryn Martin. "And she is truly deserving of this high award." The honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota. It recognizes individuals who have achieved eminence in cultural affairs, public service, or a field of knowledge and scholarship. Halonen has also gained renown thanks to an episode of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." In fall 2005, a Finnish man in the audience noted a resemblance between the TV host and Halonen. O'Brien met the president on February 14, 2006, and she said to him: "You have also made a great favor for us, because I think that at least now quite many more Americans know where Finland is."

Did you know?

* Sauna is a Finnish word. There are 1.8 million saunas in Finland.

* Finland has more snow than just about anywhere else in Europe.

* Reindeer is a staple Finnish food, and it is traditionally served saut?ed with lingonberries. (For a reindeer recipe, see "Food from Finland".)

* Finland hosts the annual Mobile-Phone Throwing World Championships; the next one will be held on August 30.

* Finland is bilingual--its official languages are Finnish and Swedish.

* Finland has a 100 percent literacy rate.

Source: Finnish Tourist Board

For those who don't know, Finland is located in northern Europe, bordering Sweden and Russia. It has an area slightly smaller than Montana and a population of about 5.3 million people. Minnesota has the largest percentage of people of Finnish heritage, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The Duluth area has the largest percentage of Finns living in any urban center in the United States--12.14 percent or 29,602. The Twin Cities has the second largest--1.49 percent or 44,204.

Proceeds from FinnFest 2008 will go toward UMD's FinnFest Scholarship, which was established after the campus hosted its first FinnFest 16 years ago. More than 120 students of Finnish heritage have since received awards from the fund.

"I was pretty excited about having an opportunity to be a recipient of some money to help pay for school," says recent UMD graduate Megan Eidenschink, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Finland to Minnesota's Iron Range in the early 20th century. "I later learned how little I knew about my family's roots and history. This [scholarship] became more than just about money."

To learn more about FinnFest 2008, see the festival Web site. For more information about the FinnFest Scholarship or to make a gift, call Maryann Soleim at 218-726-8993 or e-mail msoleim@d.umn.edu.