St. Paul, Minnesota — In May, the 82nd Annual Festival of Nations in St. Paul featured hundreds of ethnic groups that performed as folk dancers, musicians or demonstrators. In addition there were cultural exhibits and food booths where you could eat your way around the world during the four-day event.
A juxtaposition of times and cultures was evident, especially at the Viking Encampment exhibit, where young men in reenactment garb were using a laptop to check emails in between answering questions and demonstrating chainmail-making. Nearby Kelsey Patton was demonstrating card or tablet weaving, a craft known to the Vikings as evidenced by a complete loom and 52 wooden tablets found on the Oseberg ship. She worked on a modern day loom that made it easy to leave the weaving in place without disengaging from a back-strap scenario where the weaver is tied to the weaving, which is tied to a solid object nearby, perhaps a big toe or the leg of a table or a door knob.
In addition to the thousands of families and adults who attend each year, the festival attracts about 16,000 school students on Thursday and Friday mornings. Young people often have assignments from their social studies teachers to interact with demonstrators; questions on their worksheets include: What is the capital of your country? What is a favorite athletic event? What kinds of holidays are important?
The festival provides teachers with continuing education units (CEUs) and support materials, such as standards, objectives and suggested learning activities to use to increase their own knowledge, and also to help them create follow-up learning activity after the class field trip.
The festival itself has a passport program, in which participants can obtain stamps from the cultural exhibitors, and Girl Scouts can attend and earn a cultural badge. Questions they ask include: Would you write this word in your language? What is a typical greeting in your country?
The International Institute of Minnesota is the sponsor. It works to assist immigrants in finding a solid footing in their new life in Minnesota. As such, one of the program items at the festival was a swearing-in ceremony of 26 new citizens from two dozen countries. The judge gave a warm welcome in several languages, there was a greeting from President Obama via the Internet, each individual was introduced, specific instructions for filing paperwork following the ceremony were given, and the swearing-in process took place. New citizens were simultaneously jubilant and serious, showing their recognition of the step they had taken, and sharing their happiness with family members and friends.
The next Festival of Nations is slated for April 30-May 4, 2015. For more information visit
By Valorie Arrowsmith

Contact information about groups in this story:
Sons of Norway Viking Age Club, Dennis Rusinko