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Petersburg transforms the third weekend of May. The downtown is closed to traffic, stores load up stock, and people start arriving in droves. The Little Norway Festival has been a staple of life here for generations, and everyone experiences it in a different way.
Celebrating Little Norway 052417 AE 1 Chelsea Tremblay, For the Capital City Weekly Petersburg transforms the third weekend of May. The downtown is closed to traffic, stores load up stock, and people start arriving in droves. The Little Norway Festival has been a staple of life here for generations, and everyone experiences it in a different way.

Vikings and Valkyries pose during the Little Norway Festival. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.


Heidi Lee, center, walks in Little Norway parade. Photo by Jenna Wilson-Ashby.


Vikings in the parade. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.


King of the Vikings and grandson. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.


Petersburg Bunader. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.


Tim's Ale Bowl - rosemaling by Polly Koeneman. Photo by Chelsea Tremblay.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Story last updated at 5/23/2017 - 3:13 pm

Celebrating Little Norway

Petersburg transforms the third weekend of May. The downtown is closed to traffic, stores load up stock, and people start arriving in droves. The Little Norway Festival has been a staple of life here for generations, and everyone experiences it in a different way.

The central theme of the weekend (celebrating Norwegian Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai) is represented at the Scandinavian Style Show and Luncheon, where traditional Bunader are showcased by members of the community, and traditional Norwegian dishes are offered. The Rosemaling Class offered at the Parks and Recreation center offers teenagers and adults the opportunity to paint a traditional flowered pattern onto an item to take home. The Kaffe Hus serves up Norwegian pastries, open-faced sandwiches and coffee. This year’s Norwegian American Award went to Janet Holten, the long-time chair of the Little Norway Festival Committee, who announced this would be her final year as chair of the committee after years of dedicated work.

Kids who grow up in Petersburg get invested in the festival early. Anyone’s welcome to join the after-school dance lessons, where students learn the traditional dances and wear Petersburg’s bunad in the parade. Heidi Lee has been teaching the Norwegian dancers for close to 30 years. When asked what her favorite part of the weekend was, she said, “I love seeing kids holding hands in the parade,” as they walk downtown then turn up the street to the hospital, where they perform a routine on the street in full view of the elders watching from the windows and balcony.

The weekend is filled with art, from the official logo (this year’s design was from Grace Wolf) to events all over town. The Clausen Memorial Museum hosted the Little Norway Art Show, where the displays were filled to the brim with work ranging from elementary school student paintings to intricate woodworking and cedar woven hats from Catherine Young. Janine Gibbons brought a trunk full of jewelry to sell and Sean Barnes displayed his sculpture pieces in an exhibit called “All That Remains: Fragments of the Anthropocene,” which was described as “an investigation of humanity’s dissonant relationship to the natural world.” Mark Schlosser came from Ketchikan to sell wooden swords as a vendor downtown, where he was joined by other talented artisans from Petersburg and other Southeast communities.

Community members easily switch between being responsible for putting on one part of the festival, then being a guest at another event that same day. Rowan Beraza is a high school teacher new to Petersburg this year, and she jumped in and joined the annual melodrama put on by our theater group, the Mitkof Mummers. The audience cheered, aww’d, and hissed on cue through the 40-minute play where a greedy villain tried to cheat the heroine in a real estate deal. Beraza attended the bottomless shrimp feed before going to the auditorium to perform the last performance of the weekend.

“[The shrimp feed] was epic,” she said. “There was just so much shrimp, a giant pile on the table, then kids were coming by, bringing even more shrimp and bread. It’s a fundraiser for the basketball teams and the kids were really working and invested in making their fundraiser a success so that was pretty great to see.”

This year also offered civic engagement opportunities for interested parties. The Coast Guard held an open house for mariners to get questions answered about the many requirements for the upcoming season. A Forest Service biologist led a Muskeg Walk to teach visitors about our unique ecosystem. The Humane Association sponsored an open house at the cat shelter, and the Silver Tea at the Petersburg Medical Center gave the public the chance to celebrate our medical professionals. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association held a meeting for members to talk about upcoming projects for 2017.

Malena Marvin hosted an event at the public library, showing George Lakey’s presentation (recorded in Juneau) talking about his book, “Viking Economics.” She thought this was the perfect weekend to host the event, stating, “I’m a huge fan of Norway in general, and have become more interested in the ‘Nordic Model’ of economics as it has proven so successful over time.” Lakey explained that Norway — which has more entrepreneurs per capita than the US — creates their pro-business climate by offering strong social supports and investing in the individual, so people have the freedom to innovate and grow businesses. Several audience members said they were glad for the opportunity to learn how another country does things, and to learn more about Norway in particular.”

For the more active spirits, the Eric Corl Memorial Norske Softball Tournament was one way to work off some of the festival food. A sold-out crowd watched the Petersburg Ragnarök Rollers win their bout against the Far North Derby, who came down from Kenai. The Lop the Loop Run/Walk brought folks together for a rainy route around town, and DJ Manu visited from Juneau to throw late-night dance parties at Kito’s Kave. Last but not least there were plenty of food options, from the Rotary Club salmon bake to a packed food tent offering a diverse selection of meals for the hungry festival goer.

Through it all, the Vikings made their presence known. The crew spends the year perfecting elements of their costumes. Some build shields while others sew together new fur ensembles, and they strut their stuff all weekend long. You can find them greeting Alaska Airlines flights on the tarmac, boarding ships, stopping by businesses, and parading through the schools with an endless amount of enthusiasm as they posed for pictures.

I’m exhausted just talking about everything that happened; experiencing everything yourself is almost impossible. A few Petersburg residents mentioned to me that they actually go the opposite direction during this big weekend. They prefer retreating to cabins, mountain hikes or house projects to dealing with the crowds.

Others, especially those with fond memories who can’t make it back regularly, soak in every image and video they can find on social media. Thanks to technology more people can take in some of the sporadic moments of hilarity, be it a video of the Vikings and Valkyries hacking at an iceberg with an ax in the middle of the street, or a glimpse of an errant projectile going wild during the herring toss. Plenty of magic escapes the public eye. Which, I think, is the point of magic. Next year will be the 60th annual Little Norway Festival. Consider this your official invitation.