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Midsummer festival brings a touch of Scandinavia to Portland

It is summer, and the smell of beer, food cart goodness and sunscreen fills the air. The hiking trails and parks are overrun with people trying to pack as many adventures as possible into the three months that the weather is nice in Portland. The waterfront is alive with every kind of music festival you can imagine and the rivers are crowded with floaters and boaters.

Summer is kind of a big deal here in Portland, because every other season here brings rain, cold and darkness. Like Portlanders, people in Scandinavia get pretty enthused when summer rolls around. Their summers are very short and the rest of the year can be cold and brutal. Like Portlander’s, Scandinavians can be dark and tempestuous themselves. The suicide rate in Scandinavian countries is quite high and Oregon has one of the highest suicide rates in America. A little sunshine is critical to our psychological health.

The Portland Scandinavian Midsummer Festival will take place on June 11th at Oak’s Park. It will celebrate the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. 2016 marks the 88th year for the festival which includes raising a Maypole, bonfires and traditional Nordic food.

Midsummer Eve is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavia and is similar to Christmas Eve. Although celebrating summer solstice actually goes back to pagan times, the Catholic Church adapted itself to include the celebrations, saying that John the Baptist was born on June 25. Nowadays, Scandinavians celebrate the holiday on the weekend closest to the 25th.

One of the biggest parts of the celebration is the raising of the Maypole. If you are wondering why a Maypole is being raised in June, it is because Maypole materials are quite scarce until June in Scandinavian countries. The Maypole itself is covered with flowers and greenery and has a cross and two rings on top of it; symbolizing fertility.

After it is raised it is customary to dance around the Maypole. Some poles have ribbons tethered to them and the dances around them can involve complex choreography which may be hazardous to grace challenged individuals. Fortunately, the dances at the Portland festival will be easy enough for everyone to participate. They will include the song “Smaa Grodorna är lustiga att se” (“Little Frogs are Funny to Watch”) in which participants hop and dance around the pole like frogs.

In addition to the dancing there will also be plenty of eating happening at the festival. There is sure to be a wide variety of herring dishes. If herring isn’t your thing you can also try some coleslaw, which contains such tangy ingredients as peppers and mustard seeds, asparagus sautéed in butter and mustard or Norwegian pancakes which look like crepes and are filled with fresh berries and syrup. You can finish it all off with the traditional midsummer dessert of strawberries and cream.

There will be a beer garden with all the obligatory locally sourced beers. However, traditionally, Scandinavians compliment their midsummer meals with an aquavit which is a liquor that is flavored with spices like caraway and anis.

In addition to food, drink and merriment there will also be live music on two different stages at the event. Some lucky attendee will be named Scandinavian of the year by the festivals organizers, The Scandinavian Heritage Foundation.

There will also be games for the kiddies and the opportunity to make wearable flower wreaths to wear on their heads.

The festival runs from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. on the 11th. Tickets to the festival are $7.00 for adults, $6.00 for students and seniors and free for anyone under 12.

Eliza Gale – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor

Eliza Gale - PortlandMetroLive.com ContributorEliza Gale began her blogging career interviewing aspiring actors and industry professionals on a Los Angeles based website called Curvewire. She started www.elizagalesintervviews in 2012 and has interviewed over three hundred people about their jobs and businesses since then. She has contributed many interviews to 360drinks.com, which is a Portland based happy-hour website. She also writes for Examiner.com and AXS.com.