Nordic summerfest delights throngs

See why folks traveled to East Portland, from far and wide, to celebrate with Scandinavians at their 81st Annual Midsummer Festival …

It takes a dozen strong met to wrestle the Mäis Täng – the “Midsummer Pole” – into place.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Be they Nordic or not, hundreds of people joined with Portland area Scandinavians as they celebrated their 81st Annual Midsummer Festival at the German-American Society facility on SE Division St on June 27.

“The League of Swedish Societies, and our organization, host the event,” said Mike O’Bryant, Executive Director of the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation. “Our membership represents the five Nordic countries – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland.”

Nordic traditions blend together at this festival, O’Bryant explained. “This festival features mostly the events one would see at a Swedish festival. It’s a solstice celebration.”


Festival organizer Mike O’Briant spends a moment with celebrant Ann Saugen, who is clad in an everyday Norwegian outfit.

Helps keep heritage alive
With about a half-million people of Scandinavian ancestry living in Oregon and southwest Washington, events like these are more than a themed party – participants say they feel connected with their heritage when dressing in traditional clothing and taking part in events.

“Even though my name O’Bryant, I’m second generation Swede; my mother’s parents came from Sweden in 1914. I knew nothing about my heritage until I ‘became of age’. These festivals help Scandinavians learn more about their forefathers’ culture, and stay connected with their heritage. It gives parents an opportunity to teach their children about their family’s history.”


Cindy Blixt serves up what she assures are genuine Swedish meatballs.

Food and dance all day
While there wasn’t any Lutefisk (a strong-smelling pickled dish, served during winter festivals) – the Swedish Harmoni Club was serving their famous crêpe-like pancakes with lingonberry jam. Other vendors dished up servings of yellow split-pea soup, Scandinavian-style sausages – and of course, Swedish meatballs.

And, it wouldn’t be a Nordic festival without a well-stocked beer garden!

The activities the day included live music and line dancing. People in traditional costumes danced alongside folks in western casual wear throughout the day and into the evening hours.

The central dancing field was surrounded by booths supplying all kinds of Scandinavian memorabilia, artwork, and foods.

Professor of Music at Linfield College Joan Haaland Paddock sounds the “Lur”, signaling the start of this year’s festival.

Costumed or not, folks join in a line dance, while they sing a traditional song, “Sm Grodorna är lustiga att se” (“Little Frogs are Funny to Watch“).

Maypole raising starts festivities
Two main features of the afternoon were the raising of the Mäis Täng – loosely translated, the Maypole – but in actuality, the “Midsummer Pole”. The tall wooden pole, decorated with leaves and colorful flowers, is a long-standing symbol of fertility.

Once it was lifted into place – and getting the Mäis Täng raised to a vertical position and dropped into the receiving hole is a lot harder than you might think!

Joan Haaland Paddock sounded a three foot long, wooden E-flat trumpet called a Lur. “This signals the arrival of the Mäis Täng, traditionally carried into the celebration by the men of the village, and marks the beginning of the festivities,” she said.

Knights from the “Chaotic Clans of Valhalla” do battle for honor, and possibly for pillage.

Viking Knights battle
Later in the afternoon, knights from the “Chaotic Clans of Valhalla” battled in the hot summer sun – wearing 50-pound suits of armor.

“It isn’t a fight to the death,” assures the King of Valhalla. “It is a fight to the humiliation!”

The scoring is simple – head and chest strikes count two points; one to the leg scores one point. “You must remember,” intones the King, “None of this is choreographed. Vikings did not engage in embarrassing types of activities just for your pleasure. We are more concerned with death, destruction, and pillaging. When they are finished, don’t be surprised if our Viking warriors roam among you – and pillage!”

As she watched the dancing other activities, Ann Saugen, dressed in a traditional Norwegian everyday cotton outfit, told us why she returns to the Midsummer Festival year after year. “All of my favorite foods are here. It’s fun to get together with old friends and have a big party.”

To find out more about the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, see their website at


Vendor Niki Dexter shows a typical Scandinavian scene – painted members of her family – that she sells at festivals, and on their website.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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