It’s ‘All things Scandinavian’ at Midsummer Fest

Take a look at this joyful gathering that once took place in outer East Portland …

At the 2013 Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, Swedish chefs Andy Toth and Charlie Tohlen, from Harmoni Lodge #472, cook a batch of “the best pancakes on earth”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The 85th continuous year of the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival enlivened historic Oaks Amusement Park for the third year on June 15, which – yes – is slightly before summer even officially starts.

“This festival is an important cultural event for the entire Portland community, regardless of heritage,” said Scandinavian Heritage Foundation Executive Director Mike O’Bryant at the festival.

Scandinavian Heritage Foundation Executive Director Mike O’Bryant stands with Astoria Scandinavian Festival Court Senior Court Chaperon, Leila Collier – who introduces Senior Miss Sweden Jessica Creager, Ms. Scandinavia 2010 Helen Johnson, Miss Scandinavia 2012 Meg Dowaliby, Senior Miss Finland Aimee Schacher, and Senior Miss Denmark Reanna Jackson.

“It’s also important for the regional Scandinavian community – to demonstrate and preserve their Nordic heritage.”

The most important reason to preserve a culture is to remember one’s origins, O’Bryant told East Portland News. “We’re a multicultural society. While we’re all citizens of the United States, celebrating our heritages adds to the richness of our society.”

The combined Scandinavian Choruses musically entertain, singing classic tunes.

While the band plays, the Portland Estonian Society Folkdance group Tulehoidjad performs a traditional dance.

Scandinavians have a long tradition of celebrating the Summer Solstice with festivities, including food, music, dancing – and the traditional raising the Majstång (Maypole).

“It is an incredibly important celebration in Nordic countries, because the winters are so long – and dark,” O’Bryant said. “Raising the Majstång signifies rebirth and renewal.”

The festival had been held for years on the grounds of the German American Society building, since taken over by Portland Community College Southeast Center. Consequently, nonprofit Oaks Amusement Park has been a boon for preserving this celebration.

Signaling the start of the Majstång procession, Keith Masterison sounds his “Bock Horn”.

Musicians lead the procession, strong men carry the Majstång, and participants in their native dress carry flags of their countries.

“Having it at ‘the Oaks’ helps in four ways,” commented O’Bryant. “It has a larger, more complete facility for an outdoor festival; it is centrally-located; and, it has lots of free off-street parking. Plus, many visitors who come just to enjoy the carnival rides here are drawn to our event, allowing us to introduce more people the Nordic culture.”

With a series of mighty “heave-ho’s”, the men tilt the Majstång upright.

The festival is more than Swedish pancakes and meat balls, he added. “Scandinavian countries are recognized, worldwide, as first in design. And, Scandinavians are also known for supporting peace, and mediation, and a different way of living in the world.”

As a player sounded his Bock Horn, the Majstång procession began, signaling the unofficial start of summer – both in Scandinavia, and in East Portland.

As part of his tongue-in-cheek presentation, “Do Danes have a sense of humor?” world-famous Sellwood-based performer Henrik Bothe juggles for an appreciative crowd.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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