For the most part, I love living in a small town. People know each other and not just their drink orders, rush hour traffic takes 5 minutes to get through, it takes minutes to walk across town, and everybody knows your business before it even happens.
When you live in a small AND isolated town (such as Houghton,MI, which takes driving through at least 6 hours in any direction of unbroken treeline and moose country before reaching), you have no choice but to get dragged into that town’s traditions.
Take Heikinpaiva (hike-in-pie-va), a Finnish-American mid-winter festival. Not to be confused with winter carnival, which is a similar festival where people roam the streets, talking drunkenly to each other about how this winter is so much more unusual than the last and did you hear we’re supposed to get snow all the way through July this year? No, Heikinpaiva is a week-long celebration of the first little bit of winter being over. Only 6 months to go til we can see some green! I kid I kid, we only got one snowstorm in early summer last year. Heikinpaiva always ends with a splash- residents line up to take part in the annual polar bear dive. You peel off your layers til you’re just in your skivvies and jump in the water, splash around in shock-induced confusion, and then run fast as you can back in the building. And this year, I lost a little sense, grew some…whatever the lady form of balls is, and laughed a little hysterically as I lined up and jumped in myself. And yes, it was cold. Just one more thing crossed off my list of necessary experiences before taking off from this world.