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The solstice may be over, but the Midsummer party's just getting started

Tuesday marked the summer solstice, and this weekend there are no fewer than four opportunities to celebrate Midsummer in the Northland.

A circle of people stand around a traditional Midsummer pole, in the shape of a cross laden with greenery and with two round hoops at either end of the crossbar, on a field of grass.
A dance around a traditional Finnish Midsummer pole is part of the solstice festivities in Iron River, Wisconsin.
Contributed / Oulu Culutural and Heritage Center
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DULUTH — Mary Lukkarila couldn't stop laughing.

Reached by phone, she'd just learned about the existence of "Midsommar," a 2019 horror film inspired by Scandinavian solstice festivities. "I'm not familiar with it," said Lukkarila, highly amused by the notion that such a pure, peaceful tradition could be the basis for a scary movie.

Five people stand outdoors over a pile of gathered tree branches, trimming and lashing them into clusters.
Participants at the Finlandia Foundation's 2018 Juhannus gathering bound branches into vihta, also known as sauna whisks or bath brooms.
Contributed / Ivy Vainio

Lukkarila chairs the Finlandia Foundation Northland, which on Saturday is hosting its traditional Midsummer celebration at Sampo Beach on Little Grand Lake in Saginaw, for the first time since 2019. It's one of at least four different opportunities to celebrate Midsummer in the area this weekend.

Astronomically, the summer solstice occurred on Tuesday; Finland and Sweden celebrate Midsummer on the Saturday falling between June 20-26 each year, and accordingly Midsummer Eve the preceding Friday night. ("Swedes like the world to be well-ordered," explains that country's public information website.)

The Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center in Iron River is also hosting a Midsummer Fest on Saturday afternoon. The occasion will mark the dedication of a new pavilion and the John Aho House, an 1890s pioneer home recently moved to the center from its original site in the Maple area.

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This year's Iron River event — returning, like the one in Saginaw, for the first time in two years — will include a dance around a traditional Midsummer pole. "Refreshments, ethnic foods, touring historic buildings, and just visiting and seeing people you haven't seen for a while," said Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center president Duane Lahti by way of summary.

On Sunday, the Swedish Cultural Society of Duluth is hosting a Midsommar Celebration at Spirit of God Lutheran Church — and then the party really heats up, so to speak. Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna is hosting a Midsummer Gathering on Sunday evening.

It will be the second annual such event for the company, which hosted a scaled-down celebration on behalf of the Finlandia Foundation last year. Justin Juntunen, Cedar and Stone co-owner, is on the Northland chapter's board, explained Lukkarila. "With COVID still kind of high, we had our event at his sauna on Canal Park," she said about the 2021 gathering. "There was a good turnout, and so that also is being celebrated this year."

A woman plays a violin with amplifying horn attached. Visible in the background are a lake and a white wooden structure flying a Finnish flag.
Jeanne Doty entertained attendees at the Finlandia Foundation's 2015 Juhannus celebration.
Contributed / Ivy Vainio

The preceding year, 2020, the Finlandia Foundation hosted a virtual gathering, which helped "keep that spirit alive" and created an opportunity to connect with people in Finland itself, said Lukkarila. Prior to the pandemic, the organization's annual Midsummer celebration — known as Juhannus in Finland — attracted about 100 people to the shores of Little Grand Lake.

Their Juhannus party includes games like Molkky, a pin-tossing game similar to the more physically challenging kyykka; and the making of sauna whisks with which to lovingly lash your friends. Food at the event includes pulla, a traditional Finnish cardamom bread; and sima, a fermented drink.

"We encourage anyone to come," said Lukkarila. "You don't have to be Finnish."

As the new film "Elvis" arrives Friday at theaters, collector Robert Foley, perhaps the leading expert on the King's 1970s scarves, describes how he came to own one worn at the Duluth Arena in 1976.

Midsummer celebrations in the Northland

Juhannus Midsummer Celebration, hosted by Finlandia Foundation Northland at Sampo Beach on Little Grand Lake, 7095 Saginaw Road, Saginaw, Minnesota. Saturday, June 25, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. For more information, see finlandiafoundation.org.

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Juhannus Midsummer Fest, Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center, 71055 Muskeg Road, Iron River, Wisconsin. Saturday, June 25, 12-4 p.m. For more information, see ouluculturalcenter.org.

Midsommar Celebration, hosted by the Swedish Cultural Society of Duluth at Spirit of God Lutheran Church, 2431 W. Third St., Duluth. Sunday, June 26, 2-5 p.m. For more information, see swedishculturalsociety.org.

Midsummer Gathering, Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna, 350 Canal Park Drive, Duluth. Sunday, June 26, 6:30 - 8 p.m. For more information, see facebook.com/cedarandstonenordicsauna.

Related Topics: SAGINAWIRON RIVERCANAL PARK
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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