13 Oct,2016 By Jagabond
Before I get to the Viking experience, I must address European festivals in general. Back when I started this website, I thought I could get an injection of Europe in the US by attending festivals. I planned to write about this in lieu of actually traveling to Europe, which for people of modest means is difficult to do financially. I now realize how lucky I am to be moving back to Europe…and how lucky my website is. It seemed like for every nice festival I attended, there were two or three duds. That poor ratio would’ve netted me a lot of heart-stopping stories – e.g. eating pierogies at the Polish festival (shocking), learning about Bulgarian wine at the Serbian fest (what?), or seeing the Pope give a ‘thumbs up’ at the Italian fest…really, but just a paper cut-out.
I bring all that up because there was one clear winner in the ‘battle royal’ of Southern California Euro-fests: The Norwegian/Viking Festival held annually in Vista, CA.
I’ve now been there two years in a row, and I appreciate the freshness of the exhibits and activities. Whereas most festivals focus on the basics, such as local food and live music, the Viking Festival broadened their scope beyond Norway to include aspects of all Scandinavian culture. Let me hit some major highlights below.
1. Food and Drink
Who would’ve thought something made from ‘leftover potatoes’, according to Wikipedia, would be good? Lefse is the traditional Norwegian flatbread, cooked on a griddle and served with either butter or something sugary. Similar to crepes, it’s another one of those ‘pancake replacements’ you can find in Europe, when there isn’t a pancake house nearby, which there never is.
Vegetarians should beware of the Berserker dog, which definitely sounds more like American cuisine than Scandinavian.
There was a ’21 and older’ area cordoned off where a thirsty Viking could partake in mead and craft beer – they had Einstok Icelandic Ale here, one of my favorite beers in the world. I wasn’t very impressed with the mead, which is basically just a fermented mixture of water, honey and fruit. I had to have at least one drink, however, because I needed to click glasses and say the Viking cheer. For some context, ‘Skol’ is the simple way of saying ‘cheers’ in Norwegian, and aquavit is a local drink that is strong enough to clean bathroom floors.
“I am a Viking and I like to drink my beer.
Every God and Viking sing out with a mighty cheer.
We all lift our glasses cause we all so mighty proud.
To call ourselves a Viking and we’re proud to say it loud!”
“I am a Viking and I like my aquavit.
Fill up our glasses so we all can let it rip.
Eat, drink, be merry said Odin in Valhall.
Skol, skol, skol for you and me and skol for all!”
I was among the minority who didn’t decide to wear a costume. I’m not sure if the furry-shirted female Viking attire was historically accurate, but I was surprised the traditional Viking helmet wasn’t. I learned here that the helmet never had horns on it, as this was just an urban legend that was assumed to be fact.
3. Irish Music
Maybe there aren’t many Norwegian bands in Southern California, but I was surprised by all the Irish music. Pleasantly surprised, in fact, to see a group called ‘Highland Way’, which I’ve been a fan of for many years. After some online research, it turns out the Irish connection isn’t that far fetched. Beginning in around the 9th century, there were over 200 years of Viking attacks in Ireland, with Viking settlements strategically lined along the Irish coast. Maybe they picked up their taste in music, which fit the atmosphere and mood of the festival perfectly.
4. Unique shops
Most of the shops at typical European festivals end up being anticlimactic, with an ample collection of overpriced junk. I was impressed with the shopping here, including the sword/knife salesman who looked like he just stepped off a Viking ship, and the unique ‘Wheat Goddess’ crafts that mostly had a Celtic or mythological theme.
5. Uncommon activities
Where do I start? Most festivals can be seen in less than an hour, but not the Viking festival. From free fiddle lessons, to fake Viking fights, to archery lessons and axe-tossing…this was a novel experience. There was even a ‘flaming axe throw’ in the evening for people of all ages.
The Viking Festival is celebrated annually in Vista, California, typically over a weekend (Saturday & Sunday) in late September. It is sponsored by the Norwegian Fish Club Odin and the Sons of Norway, and is held on the grounds directly adjacent to Norway Hall. Find out more information at http://www.vikingfestivalvista.com.