How Geneva can celebrate Swedish Days virtually
In any given year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to downtown Geneva for the annual Swedish Days festival, a long-standing celebration of heritage and community.
The tradition was halted this summer as the coronavirus forced the cancellation of the six-day event for the first time in 70 years. But Geneva Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Laura Rush says organizers are determined to "still spread some Swedish love" the only way they can: virtually.
From Thursday through Sunday, concerts, videos and other activities will be available online, divided by the theme of the day. Thursday, for example, will focus on the "Swedish Connection," offering virtual trivia, dance lessons, cultural performances and history lessons.
Friday will be a kids' day, filled with live readings, a magic show and downloadable recipes, games and coloring pages. Saturday's theme is "Let Us Entertain You," with a book discussion, virtual Viking ship tours, and prerecorded and live concerts.
The festivities end Sunday, designated as an "Enjoy Geneva Day." Shops and restaurants are offering specials through the weekend.
The coronavirus has created the "perfect storm" for the local economy, Rush said. Businesses first had to shut down and then operate with limited capacities as they moved through each phase of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.
The cancellation of tourism-boosting events like Swedish Days also is a contributing factor, city spokesman Kevin Stahr said. Geneva anticipates a "significant" loss of revenue in areas of food, beverage, retail and hotel revenues.
"Of course not having 200,000 (people) come to town will be hard on the businesses, especially after the rough couple of months they have just had," Rush said. "However, our businesses are resourceful and creative, so I hope the virtual (event) helps a bit in making up some revenue."
The virtual festivities stemmed from an idea presented by chamber member Jennifer Kaye, who runs a photography studio, Rush said.
Though not a traditional Swedish Days experience, she said, the concept offers more opportunities for participants to learn about the Swedish culture, as well as the meaning behind the event's name -- a nod to the Swedish immigrants living in Geneva when it began.
"Each thing we thought of with social distancing and safety in mind," she said. "We did not know what phase Geneva would be in, so we erred on the side of conservative when putting it all together."
The chamber is selling T-shirts that read "Swedish Days 2020 ... Nope!" The proceeds will be distributed to the 10 to 15 nonprofits that typically run food booths during the six-day festival, which is, for many, their biggest fundraiser of the year, Rush said.
Boxes of Swedish goodies contributed by local businesses were sold out within three days, she said.
For more information, visit www.genevachamber.com.