No matter your heritage, you can take satisfaction that if you traced your lineage back far enough you would have to be related to some fearsome warrior. If you are Italian, a legionnaire decorates a branch of your family tree; If you are Irish, then you share blood with a fearsome gallowglass who poleaxed his fair share of whomever looked at him funny. If you’re Norwegian, then you’re especially lucky, because nothing captures the imagination quite like a blonde bearded behemoth heaving around a three foot long Ulfberht sword like it was made out of mattress ticking does.
Descendant of Vikings or otherwise, you’ll love the Scandinavian Hjemkomst and Midwest Viking Festival. It’s hosted by the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County on June 21st and 22nd, and celebrates everything to do with the Red River Valley’s proud Scandi traditions. It is held at the Hjemkomst Center and Viking Ship Park, where you can see the same replica of the Gokstad burial ship which Bob Asp built and sailed from Duluth to Norway in back in 1981. The Moorhead man’s mission to preserve the past is a fitting centerpiece for such a celebration.
As many as 5,000 attend the annual celebration, which is now in its 42nd year. The Nordic Marketplace in the Hjemkomst Center features dozens of artists, historians, craftsmen, and chefs who bring the best of Scandinavian culture to life. There you can buy a one of a kind rosemaled plate to put on your mantle, an ornate Hardanger fiddle, beautifully painted pottery, and handcrafted board games. And though behaving like a Viking is strictly forbidden by virtually every law there is, you can still eat like one. The Hjemkomst Center’s culinarians will serve hot Icelandic vínarterta and jammy Danish æbleskiver, and if your palate is truly refined then you’ll delight in a gelatinous plate of lutefisk fresh out of the lye.
The big show is outside in the park. Viking reenactors from all around the world come to the festival to provide a rare glimpse of what it looks like when hulking brutes sort out their differences with battle axes, something you seldom get to see anymore. (Note that these fights are all staged — the only red substance that will spill on the park’s ground will be jam from an overexhuberantly bitten into æbleskiver.) You may also watch Vikings engaging in traditional Viking games, which include wrestling and a pastime that involves hitting your opponent with a sack while blindfolded. Whatever that latter sport is called, it needs to be revived for the next Summer Olympics.
The Vikings’ traditional weaponry isn’t only for the reenactors to enjoy, though. You can try out a real Viking bow at the archery range, and then pick out a freshly smithed sword and shield to take home and keep under your bed in the event that you should ever want to really make a burglar regret his life choices one day. Once you’re properly armed you can take in the live entertainment at the beautiful Hopperstad Stave Church and enjoy a Viking-themed beer brewed by HammerHeart Brewing.
History isn’t meant to stifle the air of a lecture hall — it’s meant to be enjoyed during a beautiful summer day in the park. If you can grow a beard, grow it out long enough to braid it, and then prepare further for the Scandinavian Hjemkomst and Midwest Viking Festival by visiting hcscconline.org.
By David Scheller