For four days every year, downtown Junction City takes on a new identity.
People wearing traditional Scandinavian folk costumes sell Swedish meatballs and viking helmets from booths, some decorated like windmills, situated next to a US Bank branch on West Sixth Avenue, one of the several streets closed for the event. Loudspeakers play lute-based music on repeat. A small gathering of spinners and weavers sits next to stand selling aebleskivers, a Scandinavian desert that looks like a round, puffed pancake filled with jam.
It’s all part of the 58th annual Junction City Scandinavian Festival, a four-day event that kicked off Thursday and showcases four different Northern European cultures: Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. It’s the town’s biggest event of the year, bringing the community’s rich Scandinavian history to the forefront with community performances, demonstrations and food.
The featured performances are largely the same between the four days. But the local community treats the festival — regularly attended by tens of thousands during its run — as an important staple of the Junction City’s collective heritage.
“It’s important to celebrate your roots, where you come from,” festival worker Gerry Dykstra said. “We like an event that pulls people together. It’s about more than just making money (for the community). It’s about people coming together.”
The festival opened Thursday with Norwegian Day, which featured dancing and polka music throughout the day on the Festival Park Stage. The Junction City Scandia Children Dancers opened the stage at 11 a.m., inviting children as young as 2 to dance with peers and adult supervisors. Each day of the festival will feature various styles of Scandinavian dance on the Festival Stage, with performances planned through 10 p.m.
Two other stages showcase musical groups and informational presentations about embroidery and photo opportunities with people dressed as trolls and vikings. In addition to the many food offerings, there’s also a beer garden and a wine terrace.
The festival continues with Swedish Day on Friday, Danish Day on Saturday and Finnish Day on Sunday. Each schedule invites similar performances and vendors, culminating in a community dance at the end of every day at 10 p.m.
“It’s a marathon,” festival treasurer Jason MacDonald said. “But seeing the whole community come together, dancing and experiencing the culture like this, makes it all worth it.”
The festival also hosts an art show sponsored by the Junction City Art Association, and venues for local crafters to sell pipes, knitted sweaters, carpets and other wares.
Frequent attendees say the festival introduces a peek into a foreign and fascinating way of life.
“I have Norwegian blood,” said Jim Johnson, who dressed in full viking garb for the festival’s opening day. “Seeing all the clothing, food and setting makes it all real, and allows me to teach that to my kids. That’s special.”