On June 18 the Swedish American Patriotic League (SAPL) again celebrated the oldest Swedish Midsummer in the Americas, the 122nd annual observance of this ritual. But the occasion was even more historic for it was Midsummer's 50th anniversary at Sveadal and also marked 90 years since Sweden’s Crown Prince Gustav (VI) and Princess Louise dedicated the site on July 26, 1926. The Swedish royals had been in the U.S. commemorating Sweden as the first country to have official relations with the new United States, since Ben Franklin signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (April 3, 1783) during our Revolutionary War.
This year, the weather was temperate with a gentle breeze, but during California’s prolonged drought, fire is always on the mind. Fortunately, with vigilance by everyone in the crowd, which exceeded one thousand people, Midsummer remained joyous.

Midsummer open
Each year, participants begin drifting in a day early to set up camp and vendors’ tents for the marknad, and to secure the maypole to its anchored stanchion. The clubhouse and its adjoining dance floor get set up for dining. Food for dinner and the Midsummer Café is purchased, prepared or stored in the walk-in refrigerator. The parking lot is striped and the stage is built in its shaded inglenook of the main semicircular lawn.
People eventually retire to their cabins or other sites to enjoy a mild evening with friends. Fortunately there are often bottles left from an earlier akvavit contest....
Early the next morning final preparations are made and the crown arrives. This year, in true northwest fashion, the base layer of the maypole was covered with redwood branches. The admissions table did a brisk business early in the morning as families arrived to stake out their picnic areas and familiarize themselves with the grounds. Young families headed to the pool. Aspiring kids practiced their basketball shots, and adults wandered from one vendor’s booth to another choosing the best treasures early, though items were continually replaced for later buyers.
By 11 a.m. older adults drifted off to enjoy fika on the clubhouse patio, where they could also buy delicious baked goods to enjoy throughout the day. But all the kids were summoned to the maypole where they picked up bunches of flowers to decorate the still prone pole. Young ones were asked to lie beneath the pole to decorate that side so that when raised the maypole would be thoroughly festooned. Just before noon the call went out for strong young men and women to help us raise the pole. Some two dozen came and the maypole was quickly hoisted and secured.
With the lawn surrounding the maypole cleared, Jan Nordin singing the traditional Midsummer dance songs, and everyone, especially those with young kids, gathered to follow the instructions of Karin Forsell, a huge crowd of dancers did Swedish line- and ring-dances. It is always enjoyable to see how new generations of young kids are taught these old dances which become familiar to them as the years pass.
For newcomers and veteran festival goers alike, this noontime initiation instills fun and breeds nostalgic bonding as everyone weaves about the maypole. During this early dance, typically only Karin is dressed in her Swedish folk dress and others are all casual, though some may be wearing just-purchased items or Midsummer head wreaths.


Relaxing in the afternoon
After an hour of dancing under the noon sun, it is time to retire to picnic with friends. The Picnic Area between the road and the Old Dance floor has tables with benches set up and reserved for the lodges that constitute the SAPL, and a smörgåsbord is set up with all the fare brought and shared by members as the clubs celebrate with their members. This is usually the time when each group recognizes its Maid of Honor with a gift of appreciation for representing them in this annual celebration.
The food and drink and song and camaraderie are all abundant in this shady dell. Thanks to Nordstjernan and to Franz Mayerhofer, who was particularly popular among the picnickers as he read the newspaper’s Midsummer recipe for “Strawberry cake á la Karin” (a sponge cake with meringue, almonds and strawberries). He said it was as simple and foolproof to prepare as written and he even wended his through the picnic tables offering slices of the cake he made. He came to Fylgia’s table and offered everyone a slice, showing them the page with the recipe — and traded a piece of cake for a sip of “Kommander Olson’s” winning akvavit; both were satisfied with the deal. If Franz were offering subscriptions for a taste of his cake, Nordstjernan would have doubled its local base. All of Fylgia agreed on the delicious recipe and noted where to find it. Perhaps the newspaper should print a cookbook.
After lunch people either needed a siesta, a spot to relax or a walk to recover. While Muriel Beroza gave visitors a brief history of Sveadal by explaining the historical mementos in the cool of the Clubhouse, Fred Bianucci regaled his followers with a tour of the grounds. His walk covers both our community history and the natural history of our heartland.

Prelude and parade
As the musical prelude by the favorite Zaida Singers beckoned everyone to the lawn, people drifted to their spots around the stage where they could enjoy the program. The pageant participants, musicians, officials and Midsummer maids assembled in the clubhouse. Then, with pomp and pride by spectator and participant alike, the parade began with the musicians, then came Parade Marshall Muriel Beroza and her son Paul, and the flag bearers with the colors of Sweden and the U.S. They were followed by everyone attending the festival in a Swedish provincial costume; then the maids of honor walked before the regnants with their SAPL officers as escorts: Columbia, Svea and the Midsummer Queen with her two train bearers and crown bearer.
A word needs to be said about this pageant and program because recent Swedish immigrants never quite understand this tradition. After all, in Sweden today, Midsummer is rather like America’s Independence Day picnics with family and friends, an informal affair, preferably, for Swedes. However, the formality of this festival is due to its dual Swedish and American heritages, which began with the Swedish immigrants celebrating their beloved secular holiday of Midsummer at San Francisco’s first of three world’s fairs, the Midwinter Exposition of 1894 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. At that time the immigrants took pride both in their native land and in their new homeland, so they chose a woman to represent each country, Svea and Columbia. The fair and this celebration were so successful that they formed the Swedish American Patriotic League for the purpose of continuing the annual festival. Once the League was formed, and because only three young women could otherwise be chosen, they decided to form a Queen’s Court — the beauty of young women complementing the beauty of nature in celebrating the fullness of life at the height of summer. Each Maid of Honor would represent a constituent organization in the congress comprising the League. That is the joint heritage that we celebrate yearly with this festival.

The program and dancing
At the stage, MC and SAPL President Conor Massey welcomed the audience. After the singing of the national anthems, he summarized the historic occasion represented by this Midsummer, the League and Sveadal and thanked everyone who organized it as well as everyone who attended — they are the purpose for these labors of love and whose attendance extends this legacy another year, while instilling the traditions in their children and friends. Quoting the plaque at the entrance to Pioneer Grove (“They had the foresight”) — dedicated to the six men who discovered this site, persuaded the League to buy it, and four of whom pledged their fortunes to secure the deal — he listed the six pioneers, concluding with his "personal favorite, my great-grandfather Alexander Olson” who was founder of all three institutions: Midsummer, the League and Sveadal.
This year’s Queen, Sarah Lipscomb, was crowned. She thanked Svea Lodge (VOA#348) for selecting her and the League for honoring her with this distinction. Her grandmother first came to Sveadal years ago and Sarah not only joined Vasa as a teenager but now holds office in Vasa District Lodge #12. She has come to Sveadal every year, but this year is so special because it is the 30th anniversary of when her parents married here in Sveadal and because she was sharing this honor with her sister Amelia, who this year represented Fylgia Lodge (VOA#119) as Columbia.
Later in the program, SAPL Vice President Laura Carlson took special pride in presenting her daughter, Kylie Carlson, as Svea, selected by the Sveadal Cabin Owners. Kylie also comes from a long lineage at Sveadal — her Swedish immigrant paternal great-grandparents, Martin and Anna Nelson, built one of Sveadal’s early private cabins and were Sveadal caretakers in the 1940s. Her great-grandfather and grandfather were both presidents of the League, as were her great uncle and his father, Eric Strom, a founder of Sveadal. Her grandmother had earlier been queen and her grandmother’s sister had been both Columbia and Queen. Today both Kylie’s parents serve on the SAPL/Sveadal board.
A highlight of every year’s program is the greeting from Sweden, presented by Consul General Barbro Osher. This year’s was a very personal greeting, since Mrs. Osher had just returned from the royal baptism of Crown Princess Victoria's son, Prince Oscar. But first she hailed Muriel Nelson Beroza and led the audience in a four-fold Hurrah for the Parade Marshall, on her 90th year, for recording the local history of The Golden Gate Swedes, but also for having been born a month before the founding of Sveadal, for having come to this smultronstella every year since, and for sharing this spot with everyone. Mrs. Osher brought greetings from the Royal Family and reminded everyone of how special this spot and occasion is. The moment you are in Sveadal, the mundane world shuffles off and one is seeped in one’s original or adopted Swedish heritage and its summer traditions.
At the conclusion of the program, Conor invited all to fall in behind the parade and march to the adjoining lawn for dancing in the dusky evening around the maypole. The first dance is the Queen’s waltz, with her father, when all the maids in the pageant are paired with their escorts. Then the traditional Swedish line and ring dances are led by the Nordins and Forsell. The dancing continues for an hour — sometimes imitating hopping frogs, or daily chores, or playing musical instruments.
In the cool of the evening, after the vendors have mostly packed up, everyone limbers up by folk dancing before a meal, only later to dance the night away. People drift off to their own dinner or to the generous smörgåsbord offered in the Clubhouse. Thereafter they gradually make their way down the hill to the Old Dance Floor, as the tunes wafting in the night air seduce them onto the dance floor, where at least in the early evening the music is shared between old folk dances and contemporary ones. The bar always does a brisk business, but gradually as the older folks drift off to their cabins and beds, the music is dominated by the contemporary tunes as the younger adults party on.

Memories linger
This year’s Midsummer in Sveadal was a very peaceful, convivial day and evening. Those who stayed the night awoke the next morning to complimentary coffee and baked goods and fond memories of another historic Midsummer, older than anyone living, but as young as all those decorating the maypole or dancing throughout the night.
What remains magical to me about this occasion and similar events and institutions is at the very essence of humankind: our voluntary socialism — working together for the greater good, without seeking further recognition. The Midsummer Committee, chaired by Past President Twinkle Peterson for many years, had worked for a year on all the arrangements. All of the roles had been assigned; all the day’s vendors and performers had been confirmed; ads, signs and a beautiful 60-page printed free souvenir program had been published; the financial systems to support each of the activities were ready; the picnic tables for all the clubs had been reserved as well as those for individuals beside the old dance floor; the expensive and professional audio system had been donated once again and was set up in its different venues throughout the day; the traffic, parking, cleanup and security committees to manage the crowds were in place. Most importantly the hundred or so volunteers were all committed — the old, reliable regulars as well as some new recruits as successors to learn how to continue the infrastructure that makes all aspects of this festival possible. The myriad of little details that are still annually improved after a century of productions is remarkable and necessary to assure the success of each year’s festival.
We look forward to seeing you at this oldest Midsummer next year on June 17, 2017. Check www.sveadal.org for details.

By Ted Olsson