Scandinavian Folk Festival

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The Thule Swedish Children's Folk Dance Team performs.
The Thule Swedish Children's Folk Dance Team performs.
The Thule Swedish Children’s Folk Dance Team performs.

Article Contributed by
Emily Wynne

“Approximately 50 percent of long-time Jamestown residents have Swedish ancestors tucked away somewhere in their family trees,” said Donald Sandy, coordinator of the Scandinavian Folk Festival. Many of these people are not aware of their Scandinavian roots, but the Festival, held July 15 to 17, gives all Chautauqua County residents an opportunity to honor their Scandinavian heritage.

Participate in the Midsummer celebration, a Scandinavian custom devoted to the appreciation of sunlight and the joy of nature. On Saturday at 11 a.m. the Festival musicians and Midsummer court take part in a parade. After the parade, dancers lead everyone in performing ring dances around the Midsummer pole. “This is our 15th anniversary Festival, so we’re having extra celebration,” Sandy said.

One highlight of the weekend is the Finnish wife-carrying contest. A man runs through an obstacle course, which includes a water hazard, while carrying his female teammate. Traditionally, competitors use the Estonian-style hold: the woman places her legs around her partner’s neck, hangs upside down, and holds onto his waist.

Winners receive the wife’s weight in beer, delivered in cases post-contest by the Arthur R. Gren Company, co-sponsor of the event. Second and third place teams receive $50 and $25, respectively. The contest is free to enter, and will take place at 3:30 p.m. on July 16, but Sandy suggests that teams register in advance by calling 716-665-0883.

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Sandy is excited to announce the Swedish band Donnez’s first performance in the United States. The five-member dansband, the Swedish term for dance band, will fly overseas in the middle of their 30-concert summer tour to perform at the Scandinavian Folk Festival. Donnez plays contemporary yet traditional music with country and rock influences, and promises two entertaining shows: Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Donnez will also perform two shorter sets on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Other musical performances include Jamestown Municipal Band, featuring selections by Scandinavian composers; Svenska Spelmän, with gammeldans music played by Chautauqua County residents; Vasa Voices, from Cleveland, Ohio; the Viking Chorus; and the Thule Lodge Swedish Folk Dancers, a group made up of both children and adults.

Costumed Norsemen, accompanied by the Leif Erikson Viking Ship, will sail on Chautauqua Lake on Friday morning and afternoon before coming to the Festival. The ship is a 40-foot-long Viking replica, and curious observers can climb aboard to talk with the Norsemen about the ship’s history and daily lives of Vikings. A Viking village, complete with ax-throwing demonstrations and a Norwegian Fjord horse, accompanies the ship.

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Observe demonstrations on crafts such as chip carving, weaving, spinning, and a type of Norwegian folk art painting called rosemaling. Workshops and other fine arts exhibits are available. A variety of traditional foods will be served throughout the weekend at no cost.

Swedish meatballs, korv (sausage), cucumber salad, limpia (rye bread), and lingonberries make up only a fraction of the options. The traditional Lingonberries Swedish people like best only grow in Scandinavia, and are never farm-grown. Lingonberries are small tart berries similar to cranberries. These imported wild berries will be served on top of Swedish pancakes on Sunday morning.

Kitchen-savvy people can take part in the Pepparkakor Cookie Contest. Pepparkakor is a thin ginger cookie popular at Christmas time in Sweden. Bring two dozen pepparkakor cookies to the Festival by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Judging takes place between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., and the winner is announced at 5. The best cookies win $50 and second place wins $25.

Compete in the annual Kubb Tournament, a Viking game perfect for beginners. Players toss batons at kubbs — wooden blocks — to topple them, attempting to knock all the kubbs down before their opponent does. The Kubb Tournament, located in the family tent, has divisions for children, teens and adults.

A petting zoo, also located near the family tent, contains pygmy goats — first bred in the Swedish National Zoo in 1959 — rabbits, lambs, ducks and more. The zoo is open for at least four hours every afternoon.

Sandy emphasized the importance of educating citizens about heritage. Visitors and speakers from Sweden, Canada, New Jersey and Ohio, among others, will attend lectures on Jamestown immigrants, genealogy, meat markets, traditional dress and literature. Over 200 volunteers work tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure that the guests — filling 85 local hotel rooms — and residents of Chautauqua County enjoy the weekend.

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Come experience the many facets of Scandinavian culture at the Scandinavian Folk Festival, located at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds, which offers free parking. All workshops, demonstrations, lectures, contests, and activities are also free. Admission is $5 on July 15 and 16, and only $1 on July 17.

The Festival runs from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Call Donald Sandy at 716-665-0883 with questions, or go to www.scandinavianjamestown.org/3scand.htm for more details.