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Celebrating Scandinavia

Group keeps up its traditions at midsummer festival
Monday, June 11, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:48 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Nancy and Rex Couture, left, and Diana and Bill Blanchard, right, traveled from St. Louis to show off traditional Scandinavian dances at Sunday’s Midsummer Scandinavian Festival. The couples belong to a folk dancing association that travels the Midwest to perform the dances.

Lena, a singing toy plastic lobster bought in America, wiggled her red claws and sang louder then Ole, the singing lobster from Sweden. But it was only due to Ole’s need for new batteries. The origins of the lobsters, which served as mascots for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival on Sunday, were representative of the dual heritage of the society’s members.

“We are Americans, yes. But we are also descendants of Scandinavia, and we’re proud of that,” said Chuck Headley, treasurer of the Scandinavian Heritage Society. “It’s getting in touch with who you are.”

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The society celebrated Sunday afternoon at the Log Providence Pines tree farm, and home of Dean and Diane Fitzgerald in Columbia.

The Scandinavian Heritage Society of Columbia was founded in 1997 by Carol Headley and Diane Fitzgerald. The group, which has about 70 members, meets every other month to discuss various interests such as rosemaling, which is Norwegian decorative painting, and traveling to Scandinavia.

“I think people like to celebrate their heritage,” Fitzgerald said, discussing why she proposed the idea of the society to Carol Headley.

Audrey Mortensen, who has been a member for eight years, can date her lineage in Norway back to the 1500s.

“I know that I have a background with very fine, strong people who all came from Norway,” Mortensen said. “Their value systems have been transferred down from family to family.”

In addition to bimonthly meetings and a newsletter complete with Scandinavian recipes, weather and politics, the group has an annual Christmas dinner in January and midsummer festival in June.

The midsummer festival is a Scandinavian tradition typically celebrated on June 21, the longest day of the year. Fitzgerald explained that the celebration of the beginning of the light summer months is important as it is dark in Scandinavia for much of the year.

Despite rain early on Sunday, the clear afternoon allowed for the tradition of the maypole to still take place at the festival. The 30-foot wooden pole is decorated from top to bottom with greenery, purple and yellow wildflowers, pink carnations and two wreaths. Colored ribbons also dangled from the pole, dancing in the wind throughout much of the afternoon.

While the ribbons danced, so too did Rex and Nancy Couture and Bill and Diana Blanchard, couples from St. Louis who performed a series of Norwegian, Danish and Swedish dances.

They also contributed to the tradition of dancing around the maypole as they invited members of the group to join them. Amongst many laughs, “one, two, three, fours,” and numerous attempts to learn the dance, the group finally caught on after a few tries.

The festival also marked the group’s tenth anniversary. Carol Headley, past president of the society, said she hopes that more young people will look to join the organization.

The words of the only child at the celebration, Lauren Berg, age 5, encouraged some of the men as they struggled to get the maypole into the ground.

“You can do it!” she shouted.

For more information about the Scandinavian Heritage Society, contact Dorothy Anderson at 573-442-4798 or visit shs.missouri.org.


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