Geneva Swedish fest celebrates 102nd year
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Kenneth Lundgren missed out on Scandinavian holiday traditions like dancing around the maypole and tossing lutefisk.
Lundgren, 71, now living in Bloomingdale, said his family never knew of the Swedish Day Midsommar Festival held in Geneva every year since 1925.
"Brings back memories," Lundgren said watching his grandchildren dance around the maypole Sunday at Good Templar Park. "We went to the same thing in Sweden six years ago."
Lundgren said Geneva's festival was pretty authentic, preserving the cultural heritage of his ancestors when such traditions have fallen by the wayside even in some parts of Sweden.
"Even if you went to Sweden, you wouldn't see this unless you went to the rural areas," he said. "You couldn't see this in Stockholm."
With the atmosphere of a family picnic, relatives and friends of dozens of Scandinavian families from Chicago and the suburbs gathered to enjoy treats like Swedish pancakes, meatballs, lingonberries and herring, purchase authentic crafts, housewares and trinkets, play games and listen to traditional folk music.
"Everything is done the old-fashioned way," said Jody Moreen of Naperville, one of about 100 event volunteers. "This is the oldest Illinois festival."
The festival, celebrating its 102nd year Sunday, is organized by the International Order of Good Templars, a worldwide fraternal organization whose code is temperance, peace and brotherhood.
Reconnecting with Scandinavian heritage is the mission of the festival, held each year on Father's Day, said Moreen, whose family is originally from Norway while her husband, Scott, is Swedish American.
The festival was first held in 1911 in Evanston, then moved to Ravinia Park in Highland Park in 1913, said Moreen, a member of the order.
The Templars purchased 66 acres in Geneva in 1925 to create a more permanent location for the festival. Geneva's first Midsommar Festival drew 20,000 people from throughout the region, Moreen said.
"We get about 1,500 now," she said.
One of the popular attractions at the festival is walking tours of some of the 51 historic cottages on the grounds, which Moreen and her husband have led for about 12 years.
This year, visitors toured six cottages that feature authentic Swedish decor.
However, the main draw remains the traditional dancing around the maypole.
"This one has the best Grand March and raising of the maypole," said Betty Lundgren, 69, of Bloomingdale, who has been to a few Swedish festivals in the area with husband. "We love to have the (grand) kids participating in the Grand March."
Lundgren said it's good to keep old traditions alive as "the older generation has passed on now."