The 2012 Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, taking place June 22, 23 and 24 at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds southeast of Astoria, has been delighting North Coast crowds for 45 years.
The Festival has deep roots in the community, as illustrated by event co-chairman Loran Mathews. "I've been involved I guess 40 years or more, and there are a lot of others, too. I've been involved long enough that I'm starting to see people I knew as children come back with their families and even their grandkids."
One of the things that can make or break a festival is its ability to attract the younger generation. And it seems that the Scandinavian Festival has a little something for everyone.
From the coronation of Miss Scandinavia Friday night followed by the hex burning and bonfire to the Midsummer Pole at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, the Troll run, the puppet theater and games in the Barnefest, there are events for all ages. But even more than that, the Festival has built-in reasons for young people to get involved and stay involved.
The selection of princesses from each Scandinavian lodge brings in a new group of talented and inspired leaders every year. Many of these young women are stepping into the shoes of their mothers or grandmothers.
As Mathews said, "We have a lot of kids who have been involved, but like all young folks they sort of scatter to the four winds over time for jobs or marriage; but a lot of them do enjoy coming back and being part of the Festival year by year - they come back with their families."
One of this year's princesses, Emmi Collier, representing the United Finnish Kaleva Brothers and Sisters Lodge No. 2, said, "I've been part of the Festival my whole life! There are pictures of me going to the Festival when I was a baby, and I was a Junior Miss in 2001." Leila (Koskela) Collier, Emmi's mother, was in the Festival court in 1980 and Emmi's grandmother, or "Mummo" Lempi Koskela, still makes traditional Scandinavian fare.
"My observation is that like any organization, we'd like to have a lot more young people to help and make sure the Festival will continue - sometimes it's tough to get people who want to take chairmanships," Mathews continued, "but still, we have the princesses coming in and some have stayed with the Festival or come back. Our attendance has held steady these past years. We sell buttons - so we don't count twice if someone comes Friday then back in on Saturday - and we sell between 3,500 and 4,000."
Family connections keep the Festival strong. Mathews notes that his granddaughter, Helen Johnson, was a past princess. Janet Bowler, Festival organizer, noted, "Helen recently spent lots of time making lefse (a Scandinavian flatbread) at the Sons of Norway Lodge. Her mother, Tara Johnson, organizes the church service at the Festival and, of course, her grandfather Loran is co-chair of the festival. Helen was Queen two or three years ago."
Johnson graduated from Clatsop Community College, where she was student body president. "I've been involved since I was born - with my grandpa and grandma being such big forces in the Festival, it was kind of unavoidable. As soon as us kids were big enough to lift a bucket full of flour or put garlands up, we were out there helping," she said.
"I think the Festival is a great way to learn about where you came from. In this country, we kind of have an identity crisis, so learning about your heritage and your family struggles with people who have the same background is a great way to figure out who you are."
Food and fun
Cala Petersen, Lower Columbia Danish Society princess, suggests another reason young people might get interested in the Festival. "I would just tell them to start out dancing and then ask your family, ‘Hey, do I have any Scandinavian heritage?' Then go to the Festival, go to the booths, and talk to people who know about their heritage. Before becoming a princess, I'd been part of the Nordic dance group for a really long time - I've been dancing since I was in third grade - and I liked that my family was into the Danish tradition and I kind of wanted to learn more about it."
Petersen, who just finished her junior year at Astoria High School, also mentioned what fun it is being a princess. "We go to a lot of places to give our speeches - this last week we got to ride a Navy ship, the U.S.S. Dewey (the Navy's guided missile destroyer) from the Port of Astoria to Portland. They gave us a tour of everything on the inside except certain security rooms and we got to be up on both the decks. I got to see the coast of Portland from the water. ... I definitely think the tradition will be carried on. I know I'm going to take my kids when I have a family."
When Collier was asked what's best about the Festival, she said immediately, "The food! If I'm trying to convince someone to go I always say the food is great - it is one of the best parts of the Festival. It's just delicious - you get sweet and salty, desserts, soups and everything in such a variety. Usually you can convince people with food."
Petersen agreed, "My favorite is definitely aebleskiver and lefse. I also like krumkake - it's like an ice cream cone with designs on it, from Sweden, like a hollow cookie or a waffle. My family still makes a lot of these traditional foods for birthdays and holidays. My mom's a really good cook."
Bowler confirms: "Festival food is very important and one reason that people keep coming back year after year. Many of these recipes are once-a-year treats unless someone in the family still knows how to make them. There is rullepolse - a cured meat that is served on open-faced sandwiches at the Sons of Norway booth. (They also serve lefse.) Corleen Mathews (Loran's wife) makes krumkake and sells it in her booth along with coffee and prune tarts. There are two recipes for Finnish riisipuuro (rice pudding with fruit soup) from the Finnish Brotherhood. And the Danes make frikadeller, meatballs with red cabbage and rye bread."
Forty-five years of family fun
Other younger generation participants are performing. Don't miss the Polka Chicks, fiddler Kukka Lehto and accordionist Teija Niku, coming all the way from Finland. Or Jepokryddona, also from Finland, who play mostly traditional wedding music from Jepo. And new this year, check out the Astor Street Opry Company's Reader's Theatre production of "Ole and Lena's Wedding."
So go for the food, the fun or the camaraderie and help keep the Festival strong. As Johnson said, "The Festival is really kind of a giant family reunion. Even if you don't know everyone at the Festival, you get to know everyone. That's why I look forward to it every year - it provides a feeling of home."
Find the complete schedule at www.astoriascanfest.com