Celebrating Scandinavian Midsummer with wife carrying and Viking living

The Wife Carrying Contest.The 19th annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival will be held on the grounds of the Scandinavian Community Centre on June 21–22, as well as an Ember Skies Dance for patrons 19 years of age and older on June 20. The feature attractions at the festival include a beer garden, live music, cultural displays, food vendors, competitions and door prizes.

Organized by the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival Committee, the festival is the largest fundraising event for the Scandinavian Community Centre Society. Monica Olofsson, one of the festival’s entertainment organizers for several years, says over 300 volunteers and performers showcase some of the most popular traditions and customs of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as some Canadian resourcefulness and flair.

Traditions remembered and re-invented
The midsummer tradition originates back to the 10th century when the Vikings celebrated the brightest time of the year.

“The oldest custom at Midsummer is, as in other parts of Europe, the lighting of a great bonfire, but in these latitudes the shortest night of the year was not the right time for dancing around a fire,” says Ann Nielsen, the festival’s publicist.

So the bonfire custom was replaced with the decorating and erecting of a maypole full of garlands and flower rings as part of May Day celebrations.

“However, because of the cold northern climate, there were not enough leaves and flowers to be found on May 1, hence the transformation of the continental maypole into a ‘Midsummer Pole,’ raised in June,” Nielsen explains.

Norse games, folk dancing, and feasts take place around the maypole for the duration of the midsummer.

The theme for this year’s festival is Nordic Design. Each Nordic country will be featuring historical and contemporary artistic design pieces, such as fashion, furniture and household items.

Food and accessories
Local artists will be present to show off their craftsmanship of Scandinavian jewelry, clothes, toys and other accessories. The festival will serve traditional Scandinavian foods, such as Janssons Frestelse (a Swedish casserole), Smørrebrød (a Danish open-faced sandwich), Swedish meatballs with pickled herring, Norwegian waffles, Icelandic cookies and desserts from all five Nordic countries.

At the Viking Village. The Viking Village exhibit has been an essential mainstay of the festival for many years. Members of the Reik Félag, a Norse Culture Recreation Society, dress up as Vikings circa 1000 A.D., live and work in authentic Viking tents, tell stories and stay in character for the two days of the festival.

“They educate the public about the Viking way of life by living it. They dress, cook, act and look like the Vikings we all have heard about. They even teach sword fighting and pillaging to the kids. It’s a great living display,” Olofsson says.

For the sixth time, the festival will host their version of a Finnish competition: The Wife Carrying Contest.

“Men in olden Finland would walk to a neighboring village and carry away the woman he wanted to be his wife, displaying his determination and worthiness,” says Karina Ramsay, the wife carrying contest organizer. “Nowadays, this has evolved into the present day Wife Carrying Contest, complete with obstacles and water hazards.”

The World Wife Carrying Championships have been held in Sonkajärvi, Finland since 1992, where a husband carries his wife around a course replete with obstacles and water hazards.

“Our contest is a lot smaller and does not have a water hazard (yet),” Ramsay says.

But like the larger Finnish contest, the grand prize is the same: winning the wife’s weight in beer!

Other events at the festival include the Paavo Nurmi Run, a 10 km run along Burnaby Lake in honour of the nine-time Olympic Gold medalist, Paavo Nurmi, “The Flying Finn,” a vintage Volvo car show hosted by the Volvo Club of BC, and hourly live Nordic music. Over 5,000 people throughout the Lower Mainland are estimated to partake in the festivities.

For more information about the festival, please visit www.scandinavianmidsummerfestival.com. For more information about the Paavo Nurmi Run and the Wife Carrying Contest, visit www.vcn.bc.ca.