Oldest Swedish Midsummer in U.S. is 118 at Sveadal
Planning for an historic Midsummer celebration is a yearlong effort of many committees of volunteers, lots of logistics and continual improvements. So, people were buying or preparing all the food and cutting all the flowers and branches well in advance for this year's 118th Midsummer festival.
By Friday morning of Midsummer weekend, some of the early campers had begun arriving as vendors’ canopies were raised and the maypole was secured horizontally to its stanchion anchored in the ground. The stage had been redesigned and built; the parking lot had been cleared and striped; sound checks on the audio system were tested, and by evening the branches were wrapped to the pole ready to be adorned the next morning.
But even the best laid plans need to adapt to unforeseen circumstances: Who knew that this year a triathalon would be held on the published route for visitors traveling to Sveadal? But that couldn’t deter Swedes from Midsummer!
Midsummer, a celebration of cultural heritage, is always held in Sveadal, near San Francisco, on the weekend nearest the summer solstice, unless that's too close to our other big celebration, Independence Day. But there was no need to worry: More than one thousand people attended this year’s celebration.
By 10 a.m. on Saturday, children began to decorate the maypole with beautiful flowers, and many had to crawl underneath to assure that all facets of the pole were festooned. Many people picked their spot for picnicking and viewing the program, others were swimming, playing tennis or horseshoes, and by noon everyone convened on the lawn as strong men hoisted the maypole into place.
Everyone swarmed onto the field to participate in the traditional Swedish circle folk dances. Jan Nordin lead the singing; Kikki Nordin, Carolyn Anderson and friends played the familiar melodies; and, Karin Forsell lead everyone in the dances around the maypole. How wonderful to be in the chain of dancers holding onto your parents’ hands, those of a sweetheart or a new friend! Every year the dances tell the story of the week’s chores or how familiar farm animals snuffle and trot. These are the memories that take root in a youngster’s heart and may bind them to a land, culture and language yet to beckon them.
Dancing vigorously about the maypole builds up a hearty appetite, so it is fortunate that picnic tables and blankets were waiting with potluck or snack cart contributions of Swedish Midsummer delicacies. Every year the Swedish American Patriotic League’s constituent organizations reserve tables in the picnic area where many a skål is sung and toasts are offered.
Later, people napped, played sports or walked off lunch so as to be awake to the nature all around. Many gathered for Fred Bianucci’s interesting tour of the grounds, sharing the history, flora and fauna of the site. Every year the tour gets better as Fred uncovers more in his continuing research; this year he discovered that Swedes in the Bay Area had been celebrating Midsummer for 150 years.
For those still lounging near the outdoor stage, Tim Rued provided an afternoon serenade of traditional melodies on nykelharp, followed by Therese (TC) Brewitz’s Midsummer prelude to the program, as many grabbed a spot on the benches before the stage while others lounged on the grass or up on the balcony of the clubhouse.
Finally, this year’s parade marshalls (Ken and Charlotte Weissenborn), flagbearers (Dwayne Erickson and Robert Erik Olson), musicians (the Nordin family and Carolyn Anderson on fiddles), SAPL officers, and many in Swedish folk costumes, were followed by the maids of honor (each representing a different organization of the league). Bringing up the end of the procession, each symbolic figure on the arm of her escorting league officer, were Columbia (Stephanie Angel), Svea (Teresa Fassl) and 2012’s Midsummer Queen (Kelsey Hanley) with her train bearers (Marley Baughman and Hayley Young) and crown bearer (Noah Massey). Then everyone stood and sang the two national anthems.
Before crowing the queen, Mike Nichelini announced that 1,250 people were in attendance, even though it didn’t feel crowded. He then asked everyone in the audience who had ever been Queen, Columbia, Svea, a maid of honor, train bearer or crown bearer to stand. He also asked all the event volunteers and those wearing Swedish costumes to stand. With each new rank many people stood scattered among the crowd, some raising more than one hand to indicate they held various roles, but all witnessing to the fact that they had helped perpetuate this now 118-year-old tradition. The visual reminder was impressive. Nichelini remarked that our oldest queen, Lillian Walker, now 101 years old, had reigned in 1934.
Consul General of Sweden Barbro Osher offered an official greeting from Sweden, and introduced her guest, Ragnar Bohlín, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. She delighted in the celebration, not merely for the nature, nor its rich history, but for how it attracts the Swedish community to come together each year, foster new and richer friendships and renew a dedication to Swedish heritage.
A new aspect of the program was the announcement of the 2012 Beroza Winners. To honor Muriel Nelson Beroza, beloved historian of Sveadal and author of "The Golden Gate Swedes," the league created an annual contest to recognize creativity within our community. Each year the challenge may be different in theme, genre, age or length of composition. This year’s contest was limited to teenagers writing a 500-word essay on the theme of “Celebrating Midsummer in Sveadal.” The jury chose 13-year-old Olivia Siobhan Simms and 19-year-old Christy Erica Gustafson, whose essays were in the printed program and will hang in the clubhouse for a year.
The 2013 contest will be for ages 60 and older, a 1,000-word essay on “What I most value in Swedish culture.” All essays must be submitted by May 15, 2013 at www.sveadal.org
In keeping with the short program, and because Midsummer is a day for the children in all of us, Linda and Paul Beroza presented the Sveadal kids, who sang a couple songs to the delight of all.
During the program, Kelsey Hanley was crowned Queen; she spoke of how meaningful this was to her, that her great grandparents had first come to Sveadal as campers. Like in Kristy Gustafson’s essay, Kelsey remarked on how special the Sveadal community is when a little girl can dance with the beloved but spry Gus Brolin, without losing a bit of dignity. Columbia charmed all by speaking extemporaneously about first being a camper and then fully appreciating the close-knit Sveadal community. Svea, too, gave polished brief remarks. Finally Ted Olsson introduced each of the maids, by announcing the organization which they represented and when and where each was founded, some more than a century ago.
That concluded the program, and the audience fell in behind the Queen and her court as everyone reassembled at the maypole for another round of ring dances and folk dances.
As the dancing concluded, some had to depart, 250 remained to fill the clubhouse for a delicious dinner, and others returned to continue feasting from their picnic baskets. The dance music down at the old dance floor began about 8 p.m. with Kurt Talbot on drums and Joe Domitrowich on accordion playing traditional Swedish folk dances. Many young Swedish-Americans filled the floor to dance hambos, polskas, schottisches, Swedish waltzes and more, but as the night wore on the traditional music gave way to contemporary tunes interspersed with music for kids of all ages.
And so this longest day of the year continued under the stars and among the redwoods until almost midnight, by which time campers retired to their tents or mobile homes, others to rental or private cabins, and still others, fortified by dark Swedish coffee and cake, to the road home. It was a Glad Midsommar indeed!
You won’t want to miss next years’ Midsummer in Sveadal (6/22/13, 6/21/14, 6/20/15), and we approach our fiftieth year of Midsummer celebrations in Sveadal in another five years.
Those with photos to share from this year’s Midsummer in Sveadal may submit them to www.sveadal.org
with the photographer’s name (all photos will be attributed) and the photo’s caption, so that people can relive the special moments.
Photographer: Michael Bray