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Just before beginning of Swedish Days, event honors traditions of Scandanavia

 McKennConnolly Gabby GalbaNatalie Saeger take spabove trees Cliffhanger during 2010 Swedish Days Geneva. | FILE PHOTO

McKenna Connolly, Gabby Galbato, and Natalie Saeger take a spin above the trees on the Cliffhanger during the 2010 Swedish Days in Geneva. | FILE PHOTO

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Swedish Days

The annual Swedish Days festival will run from Tuesday through Sunday in downtown Geneva.

Organized by the Chamber of Commerce, the event draws big crowds for food, music, events for kids and more.

Music is always a big draw at the fest. This year’s lineup includes headliners 7th Heaven on Tuesday night, Nick Lynch and Silversmith on Wednesday night, Libido Funk Circus on Thursday night, Final Say on Friday night and The Moods on Saturday night.

There will also be afternoon concerts during the fest featuring performers Lindsey O’Brien, Dennis O’Brien, Blind Roosevelts and Majors Junction.

All during Swedish Days there will be things for kids to do, especially on Friday, which is Kids Day. There will be a Kids Day parade, games and more.

There will also be carnival rides and plenty of food booths for those attending the event.

On Sunday, there will be the annual Swedish Days Grand Parade at 1 p.m. The parade path starts from the high school area at Center Street and Anderson Boulevard and winds through downtown Geneva.

Updated: July 19, 2013 6:13AM

GENEVA — “Mommy, are we Swedish?” a little girl asked Sunday as she cut up her lingonberry pancakes at Good Templar Park.

When her mother told her no, she responded, “Then why are we here?”

A number of non-Scandinavians answered that question as they ate, danced, watched and enjoyed the 103rd annual Swedish Day festival on Geneva’s east side. Not to be confused with the city’s Swedish Days festival, which kicks off Tuesday in the downtown historic district, Swedish Day celebrates the heritage and traditions of Chicago-area Swedish-Americans, which founded the park in 1924 as part of the International Order of Good Templars’ temperance movement.

While blonde hair and Nordic features proliferated at Sunday’s festival, nobody looked askance at participants from other ethnic groups.

“The Swedish people are very welcoming,” asserted Michigan resident Miles Luo, whose Asian features beamed above his Swedish-themed T-shirt. “That’s part of why I’m a big fan of Sweden and Swedish culture. I went to Rockford’s Swedish festival yesterday and this one today, because I just love them.”

St. Charles resident Bob Hanczar’s Celtic festival T-shirt proclaimed his Irish roots, but he loudly cheered his friends’ efforts in the lutefisk throwing contest.

“The Swedish pancakes brought me here initially, but the activities hooked me,” he said. “I love watching the Maypole dancing and hearing the traditional music. The Viking ship is a big draw, too. We’ve been coming here every year for nine or 10 years now, and I still enjoy it a lot.”

By mid-afternoon a number of people had toured the 78-foot-long replica 9th-century longship that was built in Norway and sailed across the Atlantic, then through canals and rivers, until it reached Chicago, where it became part of the Norwegian exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Afterward, it spent years outside the Field Museum, in Lincoln Park and in West Chicago until the Scandinavian-American Council rescued it and moved it to Good Templar Park in 1996.

Now the Friends of the Viking Ship non-profit historical group owns the ship, and is raising money to restore it and find it a permanent home.

“We just got ownership of it last September, so we haven’t had a chance to launch a major fund drive or make plans to relocate it. I don’t know if we are ever going to relocate it,” said Friends of the Viking Ship member Frances Berg. “But we’re working hard with Preservation Partners, and we’re determined to save the ship because it’s so historically significant.”

Valley tradition

Back at the cafeteria building, Batavian Courtney Nelson and her daughter, Grace, picked up two herring dinners to enjoy while waiting for husband and father Ron to finish his shift in the Kafe Stuga pancake booth.

“I’m obviously not Swedish, my family is Italian and German,” Nelson said. “But my husband is of Swedish descent, and he’s been coming to this festival since he was born. His mother has one of the cottages, and I just love how pretty and peaceful they are. I married into this tradition, but I really love it, so I’m glad I did.”

Michael Williams also seemed glad to be marrying into Swedish tradition. The African-American, whose fiancée Charlotta Jonsson comes from Sweden, was seen everywhere helping out with festival chores, always with a smile on his face. His daughters, too, got into the Swedish spirit, dancing around the Maypole with flower garlands on their heads.

“This is my first time here, but I’m glad I came because this is so much fun,” Williams asserted. “The people here are so friendly. I’ve already had several guys tell me I have to come back next year.”

Next to the Viking ship, an encampment of Viking re-enactors seemed to be from the right place, but a different time — 1013 A.D., to be exact. Members of Micel Folcland, a chapter of the international Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon group Regia Anglorum, demonstrated period arts and crafts while wearing replica clothes that they made themselves and eating foods that would not have looked out of place in 11th-century Sweden.

“The Vikings were masters at preserving food, and they knew how to make it taste good,” Wheeling resident Sharon Spanogle explained to a few spectators. “Fish jerky is a better snack than potato chips. Who knew?”

“Some of the people who come here really get into the history of what we do,” added Charles Ehlschlager of Champaign. “We throw spears, and sometimes we let them throw spears, too, which can be fun. This is my fourth year here, and I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces of people who come here year after year.”

So why did that little girl and her family come to Swedish Day?

“Because it’s fun, you’ll learn something and the food is good,” her mother explained.

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