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Two years ago, my boyfriend and a bunch of friends went to Little Norway Festival in Petersburg - without me. The stories that emerged were the stuff of legend, full of Vikings. Valkyries, plate upon plate of shrimp, and lots of activities involving the word "skol." There was no way I was missing it this year.
Petersburg awakens for Little Norway festival celebrating bicentennial 052114 NEWS 1 CAPITAL CITY WEEKLY Two years ago, my boyfriend and a bunch of friends went to Little Norway Festival in Petersburg - without me. The stories that emerged were the stuff of legend, full of Vikings. Valkyries, plate upon plate of shrimp, and lots of activities involving the word "skol." There was no way I was missing it this year.

Mary Catharine Martin | Ccw

A fireworks display as seen from the Petersburg harbor on Saturday of Petersburg's annual Little Norway Festival.


Mary Catharine Martin | Ccw

Vikings and Valkyries ride in the Viking ship during Petersburg, Alaska's annual Little Norway Festival, which celebrates the Norwegian holiday of syttende mai (17 May) created to observe the signing of the Constitution of Norway in 1814. Petersburg has a large Norwegian population and has celebrated Syttende Mai since 1958.


Mary Catharine Martin | Ccw

A plate of shrimp awaits at the annual all you can eat shrimp feed, which was hosted by and raised money for the Petersburg High School basketball teams. Petersburg shrimper Dennis Sperl of the F/V Saga donated 700 pounds of shrimp for the event.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Story last updated at 5/21/2014 - 5:43 pm

Petersburg awakens for Little Norway festival celebrating bicentennial

Two years ago, my boyfriend and a bunch of friends went to Little Norway Festival in Petersburg - without me. The stories that emerged were the stuff of legend, full of Vikings. Valkyries, plate upon plate of shrimp, and lots of activities involving the word "skol." There was no way I was missing it this year.

It lived up to its reputation.

The celebration started on the ferry on the way down from Juneau. I looked up as we were pulling into Petersburg and discovered a sleeping four-week-old baby clad in furs, someone who had busted out of a bustier, and a line of Vikings and Valkyries outside the ferry.

The baby's name is Konrad, and his father, "Fubar," brought him to visit Petersburg from Juneau. Though they now live in Juneau, Fubar lived in Petersburg for a long time, he said.

"He's the newest Viking," Fubar said of Konrad. "He's going to come see his brethren."

Once the boat docked, Konrad met them. We walked through a gauntlet of cheering Vikings and Valkyries with battle axes and swords raised high.

This was a tame welcome compared to previous years, said Androg, God of Grog, the Viking King, who's been participating in the festival for a record 32 years.

"Things have changed," he said. "We used to be able to run onto Alaska Airlines and take stewardesses off. ... In Petersburg we feel alienated from world changes, but we (Vikings and Valkyries) don't get away with what we used to."

Once, he said they kidnapped a stewardess and kept her so long she missed her flight.

Most of Little Norway Festival's visitors, however, come very willingly. Just in our group, one friend came from as far as Kenya. Others came from Fairbanks or Anchorage or a hospital, escaping back surgery less than a week before.

Such is the allure of Norway's constitution.

Little Norway Festival has been going on since by Bernadine Trones and Alma Wallen got together in 1958 to celebrate the May 17, 1814 signing of Norway's constitution - though, as Sue Paulsen pointed out at one of the events, that independence took a long time.

This year was that signing's 200th anniversary.

The event is sponsored by the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, which sells merchandise during the festival and throughout the year, said Petersburg Chamber of Commerce Director Cindi Lagoudakis.

"This generates a lot of revenue and goodwill (for the community.) And it's a lot of fun," she said.

Bunads - traditional Norwegian clothing - are evidence of that community. Many have been in the same family for generations. Kyla Willis was wearing her aunt's traditional wedding dress. Adanna Kvernvik was wearing one made decades ago in Petersburg.

Petersburg has its own bunad, usually blue (though, said dance instructor Heidi Lee, it started out red and black, a color combination some of the children were also wearing) and embroidered with local plants like skunk cabbage, forget-me-nots, June flower, Indian paintbrush and devil's club.

Kids practice traditional dances after school for five to six weeks before the festival. Lee teaches them dances she remembers from when she was little.

"Everybody's welcome, and it's free," Lee said. "Some of the kids really love it. They just keep coming back."

Eight-year-old seiner Jonas Baekkelund has been dancing in the pageant and the parade for two years.

"I like the clap dance," he said. "The thing I like about it is when you're skipping around in a circle and have to stop really suddenly. I just like the feeling."

The kids' first chance to dance came Friday, during a parade also filled with - among other things - a fire truck, a bachelorette party, the Mitkof Mummers (Petersburg's theater group), the Ragnarok Rollers (Petersburg's roller derby team, which had its first bout on Friday), the Petersburg High School class of 2004 (reunited for their 10th anniversary), and (of course) Vikings and Valkyries riding a ship fronted by a steam-breathing dragon.

A chance for those not wearing bunad or furs to be more active came Saturday morning, when an industrious fireman in his heavy uniform, two friends, 171 other people and I ran the 7-kilometer fun run on a gorgeous course winding through muskeg, past the airport, and along the road that parallels Sandy Beach.

There aren't many events you can travel to and run in a race as a stranger, to have a little girl pass you at mile two, look over her shoulder, and tell you "Hi. I'm Donny's daughter."

If my breath had been a little less precious at that moment, I would have told her "Hi. I'm Frank's daughter." As it was, I mustered a small wave, and we ran on.

The rest of the day was filled with some perhaps overly successful efforts to replenish energy stores, most prominently an all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner that's a fundraiser for a basketball camp.

All the shrimp - 700 pounds of it, this year - was donated by Petersburg shrimp captain Dennis Sperl of the F/V Saga.

The Little Norway Festival event guide was several pages long; there were events on top of events, not to mention the personal celebrations.

Androg spent a week building a ship that he and the other Vikings and Valkyries burned on Sandy Beach for a funeral pyre honoring friend and Viking Kevin "Bjornagain" Kivisto. When Kivisto died last year, he was the captain of the Kestrel, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game boat.

The official schedule also didn't cover the seemingly spontaneous midnight chariot races down the closed-for-traffic Nordic Drive. One person pulled, one person rode in the chariot, and many people stood on the sidewalks, cheering their friends.

"That's Little Norway," I overheard one person telling another. "You're always missing something fun."

It makes up for it: The reason you're missing something fun is because you're doing something else fun.

By Sunday, the 200th anniversary of the signing of Norway's constitution was coming to a close. Some locals, too, were getting ready to leave.

"(Little Norway) is the way that families of fishermen say goodbye to each other," Androg said. "Then we go out and pillage the state of Alaska for fish."

As for any downside to the festival:

"The only complaint I've heard is that it was too warm yesterday to wear Norwegian sweaters," Lagoudakis said. "Other than that, everybody's having a great time."

No one can promise anything about the weather, but you can bet that in Petersburg, the 201st anniversary of the signing of Norway's constitution will be the same.


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