Norwegians by the bay

Photo: Ginny Chung. Norway Day Festival drew nearly 5,000 visitors this year at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Established in 1992, Norway Day Festival celebrated 20 years this May.

Norway Day Festival celebrates 20 years of fun and friendship in San Francisco, Calif.

Rolf Kristian Stang

New York City, N.Y.

The Norway Day Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary on the beautiful San Francisco Bay waterfront on May 5 and 6. It attracted nearly 5,000 people, comprised of San Franciscans, west coast Norwegian-Americans, Norwegian citizens living in the beautiful City by the Bay – and people from across the country. It’s held at the historic Fort Mason Center, overlooking the San Francisco Bay with its Pacific maritime traffic coming in through the majestic Golden Gate to the west and a view of the formidable Alcatraz to the east. This dramatic background creates a uniquely atmospheric setting for one of the largest Norwegian-centric festivals in the country.

Today, this former military base is a campus of art galleries, a produce market, as well as several intimate performance venues. But, there are also three very large, enclosed piers, jutting way into the bay.

Fort Mason’s grandest pier, the Festival Pavilion, measuring just around 50,000 square feet, has become the perfect venue for the Norway Day Festival.  It is huge and inside brightly decorated, with Norwegian flags in two long columns overhead running the entire length of the high ceiling. Painted murals depict Norway’s beautiful scenery, and there’s even a hand-built, authentic-looking stabbur! To enter, you first walk over Den Gamle Bybro, suggesting Trondheim’s famous red Old City Drawbridge, referred to in the song Nidelven.

Photo: Marissa Miller. Nordahl Grieg Barneleikkaring dancers have fun on the ice.

The old-and-cherished and the new-and-modern Norway are there side by side each year through exhibits featuring everything from modern innovations and high-end design, to art history and traditional clothing and crafts! Throughout the day, there were continuous performances of dance, song as well as exciting fashion shows from Mitchi Sportswear, Moods of Norway and Ice-Ame Sweaters on the main stage. A variety of foods were offered in the food court. It was hard to resist the sweet smell of freshly made to order vafler, courtesy of the Sons of Norway Henrik Ibsen Lodge, and for lunch, there was a very special new attraction from the Daughters of Norway, Aase Lodge: fiskeboller made from salmon! They were so popular, they sold out quickly. Move over cod, there’s a new fish in town!  Also offered were Chef Pelle’s scrumptious open-faced sandwiches, gravla, and herring, as well as traditional pølser med lompe, served by enthusiastic volunteers.

Norway’s most highly ranked Halling Dancer, Tom Løvli, was again his outstanding self, as performer and as a person. His energetic and acrobatic dancing inspired whoops and hollers, as did his 10-year-old son, Vetle, who dances up a storm out there on the stage with his dad. The duo were accompanied by the charming Hardanger fiddler Toby Weinberg and dancer Ginny Lee.  A beautiful bunad show to highlight the various types and styles of Norway’s famous folk costumes was outstanding.

Children and grandchildren, the movers and shakers of tomorrow, are clearly welcome. They have a wonderful time because there are things to do just for them, such as a bounce house, donated by Norwegian-American-owned Bay Area Jump. They had the chance to paint and plant cheerful flowerpots, and they heard marvelous stories and songs by yours truly. Or, they could try their skating skill on the synthetic ice, or meet Olympic curler, Christoffer Svae, and watch one of his exciting curling demonstrations. Well done; that’s how not to lose the kids!

For the shoppers, there were many wonderful booths offering Norwegian and Scandinavian clothing, clogs, housewares, jewelry, and much more! These booths, combined with a vibrant art gallery, fascinating exhibits, and, again, an authors’ corner. What a great place to spend a day – or two.  People come to find what is Norwegianly Norwegian, in other words, det ekte norske. And here they find it!

The life of legendary Norse explorer, Roald Amundsen, and his remarkable achievements, was beautifully presented on a wall of text and historic pictures.  It was on loan from the Royal Norwegian Consul General, and made available with help from local Norwegians, Knut Akseth. Priscilla Miller and Norman Rønneberg. As local maritime history buffs, they curated the exhibit.

This year, Irene Levin Berman’s book, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes: Norway and the Holocaust, The Untold Story” was featured at the authors’ table. In a presentation on each of the two days, Berman spoke of her childhood experiences during the war years in Norway and Sweden, as a Jew. She has documented those years through the members of her family. In this way, she gives us all insight into the terror and tragedy that war brings not just to countries, but also into the very heart of families.

Held on the first weekend of May each year, the Norway Day Festival signals the coming of the bright, sunny skies of summer! The team of passionate and enthusiastic volunteers worked tirelessly to create a rich, upbeat experience for their guests.  As a returning visitor to San Francisco’s Norway Day Festival, I’ll tell you, I could easily leave my heart here!

This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.