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Midsommar Festival keeps Swedish traditions alive in Bemidji

Community members gathered on June 21 to sing Swedish songs, dance around a maypole and celebrate the arrival of summer.

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Newly-appointed Midsommar queen Ann Hutchings, center, dances around the maypole with attendees during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — With the lively music of a violin cheering them on, children and community members danced around a maypole to celebrate Swedish culture and heritage as a part of the 47th annual Midsommar Fest.

Hosted by the Bemidji Affiliate of the American Swedish Institute, the event was held at Library Park on Tuesday, June 21, and drew a small crowd to decorate flower crowns, participate in traditional Swedish songs and dances, and enjoy each one another's company.

“I think having a connection to these practices and to a culture is really important,” said Sharon Fruetel, who has been involved in the organization since the 1980s. “It was a big part of my growing up.”

And it's also a part of younger generations’ childhoods, during the festival there were children decorating crowns, making bouquets of fallen flowers and enjoying fun traditional dances around the maypole.

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Karstyn Hazelton helps decorate the maypole with flowers during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

This intergenerational connection has been a part of the organization since it first began, with many of the current older members having been introduced to it by their mothers.

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“My mom was a longtime member,” Fruetel said, “that’s how I got involved.”

It was a similar story for Carol Sorensen, who has been in the organization since the 1970s.

“I had friends involved, and my mother was a good influence on me,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen’s participation in the organization and connection to her Swedish heritage led to her visiting Sweden three times and hosting Swedish groups that have come to Bemidji to perform.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of being in this group,” she said.

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Participants raise the maypole during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

In addition to the dances and songs, the Midsommar Festival also has another big attraction: the crowning of the Midsommar Queen.

A longstanding tradition, this year’s queen was Ann Hutchings. After a procession with music, that included children in a Dala Horse costume, Hutchings was crowned by four former queens, including Fruetel and Sorenson.

“I was asked if I would agree to be this year’s queen, and I thought, are you sure?” Hutchings said.

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Hutchings explained she felt this way because she lives in Pequot Lakes and not Bemidji, and isn’t really Swedish herself.

“I’m one-quarter of one percent, let’s say,” she said, “but I’ve been around Swedish culture for a long time.”

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Former Midsommar queens crown Ann Hutchings as this year’s queen during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Hutchings, though, has been involved with the organization for years and is a regular attendee at the Midsommar Fest and other events hosted by the group like Sankta Lucia held each December.

After some insistence, Hutchings accepted the offer and wore her crown with pride throughout the event.

“I just enjoy the parties,” she joked. “I come every year, and it usually rains!”

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.

This year, thankfully, the weather cooperated and provided a sunny and warm day, if a bit windy, to enjoy the festival outside.

After the coronation, the crowd sang both the American and Swedish national anthems, and the focus moved to the maypole which was raised in preparation for the upcoming dances.

Old and young alike gathered around the flower-covered pole holding hands and dancing in circles to the sound of the violin and celebrating the arrival of summer and the continuation of Swedish traditions in Bemidji.

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Stephen Smith helps carry the maypole during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants dance around the maypole during the 47th annual Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Sylvia Benson decorates the maypole with flowers during the Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants walk through Library Park during a procession to kick off the Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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Violinist Gina Courtemanche, left, and Michelle Dahlby lead the procession ahead of the Midsommar Festival on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at Library Park in Bemidji.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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