PUBLISHED: 11:36 AM on Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Velkommen to Little Norway

  Viking ship and crew at the Little Norway festival in Petersburg.
Petersburg, Alaska is home to a large Norwegian population, and no where is more noticeable than at the Little Norway Festival. Vikings and Valkyries roam the streets, and locals show off their bunader, or folk costumes, as they march in the annual parade. And while visitors are invited to partake in the party, the event is really for and about the people of Petersburg.

"It's really a celebration of small-town Southeast Alaska," explained Glorianne DeBoer, who has chaired the annual festival since 1998. "It's for us and about us. And while we certainly welcome visitors, it's not really a tourist thing. At most events, you'll find more locals than visitors."

Now in its 47th year, the Little Norway Festival got its start back in 1958, when two local women, Bernadine Trones and Alma Wallen, encouraged the town to celebrate Norwegian Independence Day. Held on the weekend closest to May 17th, or Syttende Mai, the event commemorates the signing of Norway's Constitution in 1814.

"Since that first event, the Little Norway Festival has also become a celebration of U.S. Armed Forces Day, the coming of spring, and a kick-off for fishing season," said DeBoer. "Because once fishing season gets up and running at the end of May, we just don't have time to do anything else!"

There are a plethora of events happening during the festival, including art classes, dances, a fishing derby, craft shows, a Scandinavian style show and more. Food plays a major role in the weekend, with events ranging from a Viking Feast to a festival smorgasbord to and all-you-can-eat shrimp feed and a seafood bake and barbecue. Even the music sounds tasty, as the Pickled Herring Band, out of Olympia, Washington, will be performing.

"There are so many special events, but probably one of the highlights of the weekend is the festival's annual melodrama performed by the Mitkof Mummer's Theatre Group, which is written especially for the festival each year," said DeBoer.

"We are also especially pleased to be holding a reception in honor of Norway's ambassador to the United States, Knut Vollebaek," she added. "It is quite a big deal that on the 100th anniversary of Norway's independence from Sweden, he and his wife, Sofie, have chosen to come to Petersburg to celebrate."

About 1,000 other visitors will also come to town for the community-wide celebration, which will take place from Thursday, May 19th through Sunday, May 22nd. Alaska Airlines provides transportation to the event, as does the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"You don't have to be Norwegian to join us," added DeBoer of the all-ages event.