Visit pretty much any metropolitan center in the U.S. — from Boston, Newport News, and New York City to Chicago, St. Paul, Cleveland, and even all the way out west to Los Angeles and Seattle — and the chances are he is right there looking back at you. City centers, county parks, marinas, fishing terminals, and scenic views: You can hardly miss him. Leif Erikson. Cloak tied carelessly around his shoulders, negligently leaning on his scramasax sword or double war axe and capped with his signature horned helmet. Leif Erikson in bronze, Leif Erikson in stone, Leif Erikson in wood. Leif Erikson on murals, store fronts, cultural centers, even billboards and bus stop graphics. Good ole Leif is inviting you to “get your Viking on.”
Once the visuals have caught your attention? Dig a little deeper for local events and calendar celebrations. You’ll likely find Viking Fests, Viking Days, Viking Parades, folk dancing, luncheons, dinners, choirs, flag raisings, and orchestral entertainments. Most urban centers grew from immigrant pioneer origins, and it’s hard to find one that doesn’t honor its Scandinavian heritage in some fashion or another.
There is a running joke that you can go snow blind eating Norwegian fare.
Oct. 9 is Leif Erikson Day, and Dec. 13 celebrates Sancta Lucia in her white robes and crown of lights, followed by JuleFest. June marks Midsommer (Sankthans) and July 29 marks Olsok, or St. Olaf’s Day, recognizing the patron saint of Norway. But you just don’t have to wait that long to go Viking.
May 17, Syttende Mai — Norwegian Constitution Day — is right around the corner, and a modicum of online research may well reveal a smörgåsbord of calendar activities within easy access — wherever you find yourself.
According to Rob Kodalen, past president of the Poulsbo, Washington–based Sons of Norway (SoN), it’s not just about Norwegians, or even Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, or even Finns. “Heck, anyone who is anyone likes to play Viking for a day (or two),” said Koladen. “What’s not to like? Pageantry, folklore, history, food, and lots of fun!”
There is a running joke that you can go snow blind eating Norwegian fare — white bread, white cheese, white fish, and white potatoes. Gerald Erickson, SoN District 2 past vice-president of Oslo Lodge, agreed with Koladen. “I guess you could add white onions, white turnips, and even white rice to that list — but it’s all good!” said Erickson. “You can feast on lefse, goat cheese, pickled herring, cod roe, rye crisp, fiskeboller, fish cakes, fish soups and chowders, komle potato dumplings, salmon — and even lutefisk. If you’re lucky, you might even get to taste gomme or rømmegrøt cream pudding. Wash it all down with Valhöll beer, honey mead or even aquavit.”
In between snacks and meals (which are a big part of most observances), you might get to move to the magic of accordions and fiddles, and to marvel at quaint and curious folk costumes, customs, and kick-up-your-heels dance moves. Or just dig the shared history of Scandinavian cultures transported across the Atlantic and through the vast prairies all the way to the Pacific Northwest in successive waves from the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression and through both world wars.
Can’t make it in May for Norwegian Constitution Day? Too bad — it can be quite the treat, but that’s not the only way to follow in the footsteps of good old Leif Erikson. Check out your local Sons of Norway chapter. Most feature themed breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and feasts showcasing lefse, lutefisk, meatballs — the works. If you’ll have plenty of time on target, many chapters sponsor events ranging from classes on traditional rosemåling floral painting, folk dancing for kids and adults, language lessons, Scandinavian cooking, traditional wood carving, and maybe even needlework and lace making. My nearest SoN chapter even offers a Shield Maiden Self-Protecting Course — self-defense for ladies 15 and up.
Can’t find a SoN chapter nearby? No problem. Try your local chamber of commerce, Leif Erikson International Foundation (LEIF), city hall, or Heritage Foundation. Chances are, they’ll give you a hearty “Hei, hei,” or “Velkommen” — and you’ll get dazzling smiles when you answer “Takk,” “Takk skal du ha,” or even “Tusen takk”!
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