Scandinavians celebrate summer at The Oaks

Formerly held in outer East Portland, the annual ‘Scandinavian Midsummer Festival’ now flourishes on the banks of the Willamette River …

Flags and costumes of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland were on display at this year’s annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

In the “northern lands of the midnight sun”, Scandinavians celebrate the warmth of summer by gathering with friends to enjoy food and drinks, decorate a Maypole, play games on the lawn – and enjoy the longest day of the year.

This tradition continued in Portland as the 89th annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival took over historic Oaks Amusement Park on June 10.

Nordic Northwest Executive Director Greg Smith, at the festival, says that they welcome all who come to enjoy Scandinavian culture, food, and fun.

“This location seems to work out really well for us, and it’s really grown over the last few years,” smiled the chief organizer, Nordic Northwest Executive Director Greg Smith.

“Last year we saw a record crowds here, and even with clouds rolling over, it looks like we already have a terrific crowd enjoying Scandinavian foods, crafts, and arts – and the kids are having a great time as are the adults,” Smith told East Portland News.

Serving up Swedish meatballs is Bjarne Blix, at the Scandinavian Café.

Kelsey Hoeffel fashions a traditional head wreath for Rylie Hoefell.

Beyond offering a good time, there’s a deeper meaning to the festival, Smith remarked. “We present both the historical and contemporary aspects of Scandinavian culture for the about 12% of the population of Oregon and Washington who share roots from the Nordic countries.

“This festival brings people back together, and reminds them of where they came from, and the wonderful traditions of their ancestors,” elaborated Smith. “But at the same time they get to explore what’s happened in the contemporary Scandinavian communities – learning from the exhibits, participating in arts and crafts, and celebrating things that are coming out of Scandinavia today.”

The group Süssefüsse performs their interpretation of a traditional Swedish dance called “Lott Istto”.

With a mighty “heave-ho”, volunteers and organizers raise the Majstång (Midsummer Pole).

As we spoke, volunteers were helping lift the traditional Majstång into place. “Remember, this isn’t a ‘Maypole’ – it’s the ‘Midsummer Pole’,” said the announcer, directing raising of the totem, which was decorated from top to bottom with greenery and flowers to signify the beginning of the summer season.

Although the festival was presented by Nordic Northwest and the League of Swedish Societies, the countries of Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland were also represented in the entertainment, dances, specialty food, and games.

Sellwood resident Henrik Bothe, “the Dane with the sense of humor”, stands ready to entertain the eager crowd.

Throughout the day, groups danced around the Majstång, welcoming the coming of summer.

“We’re proud that this festival continues to be a fun and family-friendly important day – one with centuries-old traditions for everyone to enjoy, whether or not they have Nordic heritage!” said Smith.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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