‘Scandinavian Midsummer Festival’ moves to Oaks Park

Find out why this event moved as far west as they could, while still staying in East Portland. You’ll see how the  80-block move of this colorful festival worked out for them …

Judy Rust, wearing her traditional Swedish dress, leads the Vasa Rosa Youth Group Swedish folk dancers in the Majstång celebration during the 83rd annual Portland Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For years, the Portland Scandinavian Midsummer Festival has celebrated the summer solstice at the German American Society on SE Division Street near  SE 79th Avenue. But, the 2011 edition of this colorful event took place at historic Oaks Amusement Park on June 25 instead.

Scandinavians have a long tradition of celebrating the summer solstice with bonfires, or the raising of the Maypole (Majstång), pointed out Mike O’Bryant, Executive Director of the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation.

Ann Saugen, wearing an everyday Norwegian dress, talks with event organizer Mike O’Bryant, Executive Director of the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation.

Holding flags of their respective native countries, here Adam Perkiomki wears a Finish traditional outfit, and Terrilee Baker, a Danish costume from Saling, Denmark.

“This tradition has been celebrated continuously for 83 years here in Portland,” O’Bryant added, “With a festival featuring Scandinavian foods, music, dancing, and vendors. We decided to expand our event, and when we contacted Oaks Park last year, they said they’d be delighted to host us.”

Joe Norling, president of non-profit Oaks Amusement Park, commented that this festival seemed a “good fit” for them. “We enjoy working with other non-profit organizations, and we host events of all kinds here.”

Joan Haaland-Paddock sounds the “Lur”, a traditional Norwegian trumpet, signaling the start of the Majstång (maypole) procession.

Musicians representing many Nordic cultures lead the Majstång  procession.

O’Bryant agreed, observing that the move seemed to boost their attendance, not hurt it. As celebrants began line up for the parade that leads to “the planting the Majstång”, he said there’s been continued support for the festival because Portland is home to about a half-million people who claim Scandinavian or Nordic ancestry.

“Many of us are second, third, or fourth generation residents here, as I am,” O’Bryant said. “Others are new immigrants. But, this celebration brings us all together to celebrate coming out of a long winter – and in northern latitude countries, their winters are long!”

Even though we’re all Americans, O’Bryant said he thought the festival continued to be successful because it’s “incredibly traditional. You’ll see both men and women in traditional clothing from their native countries. It’s welcoming to immigrants, and educational for those whose children have grown up here.”

Flag-bearers, led off with the flag of the United Stated, represent the heritage of their respective Scandinavian countries.

It takes several strong men to carry the Majstång (maypole) in the procession.

Clearly, the Midsummer Festival is a family affair. In the “Kids Zone”, youngsters were making traditional flower wreaths to wear in their hair, engaged in other crafts, and taking part in song and dance demonstrations.

With sounding of the “lur”, an ancient wooden horn found in Norway, Denmark, and South Sweden, the Majstång procession began. It ended as a crew of men lifted this maypole, a little bit at a time, into position.

Little by little, the Majstång (maypole) is raised into position..

Members of the Vasa Rosa Youth Group Swedish folk dancers perform at the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival at Oaks Park.

Then, it was time for singing and more dancing, dining on Swedish meatballs and lutefisk (salted fish), and basking in the sunshine that warmed the afternoon.

“It’s an all-day festival,” O’Bryant added, “It concludes with an evening dance.”

We asked if they’d also celebrate “Ukon juhla”, the Finnish tradition of building a huge bonfire that burns bright into the night.

“No, City officials frown on that practice,” O’Bryant replied. “That’s why we celebrate with the Majstång.”

Cindy Blixt serves up more Swedish meatballs.

Vendor Diane Milleson, dressed in a Swedish costume, shows her merchandise. What’s the translation of “God Jul”? It’s “Merry Christmas”!

They’re already looking forward to their 84th celebration, O’Bryant said. “It’ll be the last Saturday of June next year.”

To learn more about the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, visit their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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