Has anyone ever told you that the state of Michigan is shaped like a mitten? At the top of the mitten is a bridge that connects the lower part of Michigan to the state’s Upper Peninsula. Lake Superior runs along the northern side of the Upper Peninsula, and into its waters sticks a thumb of land- the Keweenaw Peninsula.
The Keweenaw is also called Copper Country. People have mined copper here for thousands of years. Starting in the mid-1800s (OR starting about 150 years ago ?), many people moved here from other countries for jobs mining copper. Working and living in these mining towns could be challenging, especially in winter.
Just like in years past, winters in northern Michigan continue to be long, snowy, and cold. It usually snows for the first time around Halloween and the snow generally sticks around until April. Over the winter, an average of 14 to 18 feet of snow falls. The temperatures are below freezing most of the winter, usually between 0 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
How do kids who call the Keweenaw home make it through the long snowy winters? They do what kids have been doing here since before the mining era: have fun!
After all the leaves fall off the trees many kids here get antsy for the first snow. When the first snow falls, they can’t wait to throw on their snow gear and head outside to play.
(musical interlude and winter recreation picture montage- historic and present day mix)
Many kids in the Copper Country also attend two special winter celebrations. Many people immigrated here from Finland during the mining era, and Heikinpaiva is celebrated by their descendants and the community to keep Finnish traditions alive. Outside, kids watch the parade and participate in kicksled races. Inside, they try Finnish food, like Nisu bread, salmon stew, oven pancakes, and fruit tarts. Kids also have lots of fun as they listen and dance to Finnish music.
The second celebration is Michigan Tech University’s winter carnival. One of the highlights for families is walking through campus to see snow sculptures built by the university students. Students have been building these sculptures during winter carnival since the 1930s!
Gathering to play outside on the snow and ice and celebrate are Copper Country traditions that bring the community together to enjoy winter. These traditions help the winters feel shorter and remind kids in the Keweenaw that they aren’t so different from the kids that lived here many years ago. Hopefully one day you’ll be able to visit the Copper Country and Keweenaw National Historical Park to join in the winter fun and keep the traditions alive.
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A Keweenaw winter can bring severe weather with hundreds of inches of snowfall, but the kids of the past have found ways to embrace it just as they are today.
Produced by: Jenni Burr
Written by: Jenni Burr
Last updated: June 26, 2022