Penedo, Brazil – Santa’s Summer Home

What happens when reserved Finnish vegetarians move to Rio de Janero, Brazil?  Penedo is the story of one of the two remaining, out of the ten, Finnish Utopian communities that emerged in the early 1900’s.  It is also the only one that is thriving.

UuskallioPenedo was created by Toivo Uuskallio as a vegan community in 1929.  He was aided in his efforts by Pastor H.D. Pennanen who, after a trip to Penedo, felt that Finns could find a better life in the land he had seen.  On returning to Finland, he preached of this.  Thanks to “tropical fever”it was rather easy to find people ready to move.

Followers had to answers 70 questions before being accepted.  The basic tenets were; no smoking, no political leanings, no religious leanings, and acceptance of veganism.  The community tried to grow different types of fruit and vegetables but were only successful with corn, bananas, yams, and citrus.  The followers were unaware the lands had been a coffee plantation, which depleted the resources, and that it was infested with leaf-cutter ants. 

Penedo was also the location of the first sauna in Brazil and it started to become a retreat for homesick Scandinavian and other Europeans. This was similar to Redwood Valley, another utopian community, for the Finnish and other Scandinavians of San Francisco.  The first guests were said to be the Finnish Counsel to Brazil in 1932.  Other continued to visit.

The utopian experiment ended in bankruptcy in 1942, brought on by a declining citrus market and World War II.  Many that could returned to Finland.  For those that remained, renting their property as guest houses became their best option.

Penedo is located near a National Park, the Parque Nacional do Itatiaia, with several waterfalls and beautiful scenery.  For city residents, Penedo guest homes were easy starting points for trips into nature.  It was inevitable that the artisans in the community started making crafts; hats, shirts, rugs, and even jams, that they sold to the tourists.  Visitors to Penedo enjoyed Finnish food, music, and dance.  It was something different for Brazilians.  Penedo had found the start of its second chance.

Since the early days of tourism in Penedo, the town had grown to embrace staged authenticity.  Basically meaning giving “tourists” an experience they expected if they are in the place they think they are in.  (I Digress – This is a great way to define the Alpine town of Helen, Georgia.) Even the non-Scandinavians of Penendo adopted Finnish architecture, Finnish food, and Finnish Folk dancing.  The early settlers became the main focus of town.
cimg6210-1024x767In 1998, Santa Clause decided to build his summer home in Penedo. 😉  Actually he moved right in the new section called Little Finland.  Here all of the shops look like they came right out of Finland.  All of the employees all wear traditional Finnish costumes.  Santa’s House and Little Finland is fashioned after Rovaniemi’s Santa Clause Village.

Today, Penedo is considered one of the top seven tourist destinations inside Brazil and receives over 240,000 visitors each year.

Utopia and the Formation of Urban Penedo, Sergio Moraes Rego Fagerlande (in Portugese)


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