The Vikings may have raided Europe, Russia and the shores of North America centuries before Columbus took his first step on dry land, but it wasn't until Saturday their exploits brought them to La Cañada.
The local Edvard Grieg Lodge 6-074 of the Sons of Norway, a brotherhood that celebrates Scandinavian heritage, hosted its first Midsummer Vikingfest at Lutheran Church in the Foothills. The event aimed to set the record straight about the misunderstood marauders while providing information on Norwegian culture and history and the Sons of Norway, says Pat Hamilton, the organization's publicity director.
"A lot of immigrants came here, and they had no family, so this was a brotherhood to protect the culture and the language," she says. "Now, we're trying to reach out to anyone interested in Scandinavian culture."
Participants immersed themselves in all things Norwegian — from games, garb and handicrafts to songs, dancing and food — and were offered a chance to hunt down their Scandinavian roots. Near a small courtyard room, a signed asked: "Are you related to a Viking?"
Inside, Shelly Baum of Pasadena was armed with a flotilla of genealogy resources and a map linking various surnames to farmsteads in Norway. Her own parents came here in the late 1800s, but Baum regretfully never asked about their heritage and had to learn on her own. Now, she's dedicated to helping others and says, "If you've got a name with Berg (mountain) or Rud (meadow)…you're on your way to doing your research."
Festival vendors showcased handmade Norwegian art and jewelry, some featuring rosemaling, a Scandinavian design painted or carved into wood pieces in various floral motifs.
On the front lawn, families played the traditional lawn game kubb, which resembles horseshoes or bocce ball, and feasted on Danish ice cream. The culinary king, however, was the pølse med lompe or "Viking Dogs" (hot dogs wrapped in potato pita bread), the smell of which deliciously permeated the festival grounds.
In demonstrations, visitors were treated to traditional storytelling, songs and dancing. Vocalists Cara Clove and Kari Davis performed the haunting and melodious 12th-century "St. Magnus Hymn," while Judith Viljne, Evdard Grieg Lodge's cultural director, schooled spectators on Norse culture and Vikings in particular.
"They were the Hells Angels of the North," she quips. "We must remember these were fighting times."
Despite Vikings' popularity, they accounted for only three percent of the population, says Jo Ness, president of the local Edvard Grieg Lodge, who organized the event. Their ranks comprised mainly young men who, disregarded by primogeniture, the custom bequeathing all land and wealth solely to the eldest son, sought their fortunes abroad.
"They were smart," Ness says. "They could read the stars and the tides, and they knew how to live off the sea."
The Ravens of Odin, an area Viking-age education troupe, further educated festival-goers about religious and cultural aspects of Nordic life, displaying models of weapons, chests and artifacts.
As they conquered lands, Vikings effectively cross-pollinated cultures that hadn't previously been exposed to one another with the customs and goods they brought with them, says group leader Jaan Calderon.
"A lot of people think they're barbaric or less cultured — that's not true," Calderon says. "They opened up cultural networks and influence."
Bill Enger, a San Marino resident who went with his grandmother to Sons of Norway meetings at age 5, himself joined five years ago when his son traveled to the homeland to study. Since then, Enger traveled there, met family and learned about his heritage. Still, there's something compelling about the Vikings, he admits.
"They went to Africa, into Russia and the Middle East. They colonized Greenland, and they went to America on these little rowboats," Enger says. "To me that's amazing. It really tells you what human beings are capable of doing."
For more on the Sons of Norway visit sofn.org, or call (818) 563-2526.