BEMIDJI -- A downpouring of much-needed rain on Sunday didn’t put a damper on the Bemidji affiliate of the American Swedish Institute's 46th annual Midsommar Festival, a celebration that brought about 40 community members together to honor their Swedish heritage and rejoice in the return of summer.

The event, which typically takes place outside in Library Park, was held at First Lutheran Church and was brimming with Swedish music and dance, jubilation, and, of course, a maypole and flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors to signify the newness of life that the summer solstice brings.

“We celebrate Midsommar because it’s the longest day of the year with the most amount of daylight,” Bemidji ASI President Al Paulson said. “We tend to need to know a little bit about where we come from -- what our roots and traditions are. By doing this, we’re continuing it.”

The Bemidji affiliate, whose approximately 75 members come mostly from around the Bemidji area, also holds a Sankta Lucia celebration in the wintertime. Paulson said it and the Midsommar Festival in the summer are the group’s two main events throughout the year. This year's Sankta Lucia celebration was held virtually due to COVID, naming Olivia Carlson, a sophomore at St. Olaf College, as this year's Sankta Lucia.

In preparation for the Midsommar festivities, women and girls -- some dressed in traditional Swedish attire -- gathered around a large bucket of flowers atop a table to weave their own personalized flower crowns. The lushest, most vibrant flower crown would belong to this year’s Midsommar queen, Anita Norden, who would be crowned with it by former Midsommar queens during the celebration.

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Flower crowns are decorated ahead of the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Flower crowns are decorated ahead of the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

“The queen reigns over Midsommar,” longtime ASI member Michelle Dahlby said. “We think we’re the only ones in the United States who have been doing this consistently for 46 years.”

Nearby, others fashioned birch branches and flowers to a maypole, which would later be hauled into the middle of the room and act as the event’s centerpiece for folks to dance around. The size of the pole had to be reduced to accommodate being indoors this year, but traditionally it stands about 14-feet in height.

“Some years when the festival was also held indoors we popped up the ceiling tiles and used the taller pole,” Dahlby said. “We just made do with whatever we needed to do.”

Midsommar Festival participants decorate the maypole during the 46th annual event on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Midsommar Festival participants decorate the maypole during the 46th annual event on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

In Sweden, Midsommar festivities are much anticipated by residents after long Scandinavian winters, with adults and children forgoing work and school to celebrate the commencement of summertime. Norden, who has Swedish ancestry and whose daughter once taught school in Sweden, explained how she came to understand the importance of the country’s beloved national holiday.

“My daughter taught for about 10 years over there, and she said she finally learned that she couldn’t assign all these assignments the night before Midsommar,” Norden said with a laugh.

Once the maypole and crowns were assembled, a procession led by family musical group, Lingonberry Jam, entered the room, playing traditional Swedish songs while circling the maypole. Norden, along with Sankta Lucia Olivia Carlson, followed, as well as former Midsommar queens Judy Dvorak and Carol Sorensen and children dressed in a red, two-person Dala horse costume representing the popular Swedish icon.

The Dala horse is led as part of a procession kicking off the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
The Dala horse is led as part of a procession kicking off the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Then, paying homage to both heritages, American and Swedish national anthems were recited by the roomful of people. Once Norden was crowned Midsommar queen, the group listened to a variety of Swedish tunes by the band until it transitioned into dancing time for everyone.

Former Midsommar queens crown Anita Norden as this year’s queen during the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Former Midsommar queens crown Anita Norden as this year’s queen during the 46th annual Midsommar Festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Directed by Dahlby, the group moved through a slew of dance moves, from holding hands and kicking their feet to pretending to be various animals while whirling around the maypole.

“I love the people, that’s the best part,” said Dvorak. “It’s all the Swedish things and we get to dress in costume. Although I do have to take the dress in now -- too much dancing.”

Dvorak said she has continuously honored her Swedish heritage throughout her life, twice taking a trip to the motherland in 1957 and 1975. Now, as an ASI member of more than 25 years, she looks forward to organized events like the Midsommar Festival, as she can celebrate the first days of summer just as her ancestors once did -- regardless of location.

Midsommar Festival participants listen to Lingonberry Jam bandmembers perform traditional Swedish folk tunes during the 46th annual event on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)
Midsommar Festival participants listen to Lingonberry Jam bandmembers perform traditional Swedish folk tunes during the 46th annual event on Sunday, June 20, 2021, at the First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

“It’s a fun group, we do have such fun,” Dvorak said. “A lot of us might not ever know our grandparents or our great-grandparents, and, if you're lucky enough to take a trip over to see where they came from, it’s really special.”

Paulson said the ASI affiliate group is always looking for new members and encourages those interested in their Swedish heritage to join. Meetings are typically once a month and consist of learning about Swedish culture, history, language and food, among other things.

“We’re always looking for new members to come out and support their Swedish heritage,” Paulson said. “It’s nice to know where you come from and what your ancestors went through to get here.”

For more ASI affiliate membership information, call Al Paulson at (218) 785-2368, or email him at luckyswede@gmail.com.