Food, fun and history led the way during Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa. The northeast community celebrated its 51st version of recognizing its Norwegian heritage. About 15,000 people attended the two-day event.
Strolling through downtown, you see the community’s Norwegian-American pride everywhere – the Danish national flag flying on a light pole next the American flag. Street intersections have the five Scandinavian countries’ flags overhead. Storefronts are decorated to celebrate the event. Lawn chairs and blankets line the street in people’s anticipation of the annual parade.
Our first event we attended was the parade. Hundreds of floats and participants marched along about a mile route over 90 minutes. A group of military members carrying flags of the United States and its military branches kicked off the parade. People stood and removed their hats in respect of the military. This act always impresses me, as you see it a lot in smaller communities.
A group of firefighters, along with some fire trucks, followed the military members. They, too, received the applause of the parade goers.
People on floats, tractors, as well as walking the parade route flooded viewers with candy and other treats, including frozen ice treats and PEZ candy dispensers. The kids near us had a fun time scrambling for the treats.
Decorah’s Norwegian ancestry was on display with various dance groups performing during the parade. We learned that children become involved with learning traditional dances beginning in the third grade. They continue to learn more about Norway and its dances, as they get older.
Other communities marched in the parade, some promoting their ethnic festivals. La Crosse, Wisconsin, is home to Oktoberfest the first weekend in October.
Lisa was quick to point something out to me – the Minnesota Vikings football team was represented at the parade. Two cheerleaders represented the team, dressed in team colors.
“Real” Vikings were there, too. A group of reenactors marched in traditional gear. They participated in a living history camp reenactment.
One of the things we like about parades are the marching bands. Unfortunately, only the Decorah High School band participated in the parade. Of course, that’s likely due to the time of the year. We find more bands march in parades during the school year or near it. Regardless, we enjoyed the band’s performance, along with its flag team.
With the event’s theme being “Nordi Gras 2017,” we expected to see colors, costumes and beads like you would see at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration. One group went all out with people dressed in costumes featuring fairies and monsters. Children seemed to enjoy it.
Once the parade was over, it was time to find some food. Downtown’s Water Street featured booths offering everything from Norwegian meatballs to lutefisk to lefse. With my dad being a Swede, I am familiar with these foods. For non-Scandinavians, lutefisk is a fish dish that resembles Jell-O in consistency. Lefse is a flatbread made from potatoes (think tortilla). One booth featured a potato sausage wrapped in a lefse. Both items are popular with people.
We tried the polse (sausage in a lefse). We added a little mustard and ketchup. It was tasty. I love Swedish meatballs, so I tried Norwegian meatballs on a stick. They tasted similar. We topped lunch sharing a dessert waffle with strawberries and whipped topping. We had to fight off a bee, which was attracted to it.
The Vesterheim Museum hosted living history demonstrations, including a straw broom maker, wood carver, blacksmith, and artist. The reenactors worked at the museum’s historical buildings on its campus.
We capped our visit by watching an evening performance by Norwegian dancers at the courthouse square. The team of about 12 dancers traveled from Norway to perform in Decorah and Minneapolis.
We enjoyed our visit to Nordic Fest 2017. It was our first time visiting the event, as we were hosted by the Decorah visitors bureau. We hope to visit the event again. We recommend visiting Nordic Fest in Decorah.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Visit Decorah for hosting our visit to Nordic Fest. However, all opinions and views are ours.