Skip to main content

Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

2016 Kingsburg Swedish Festival

Apr 27, 2016 03:20PM ● By Ronda Alvey

So, So, Swede

By Ben Ralph
May 2016

Would people take you seriously if you told them you were attending a celebration of Swedish culture in the heart of an area with “San Joaquin” in the name, which is famous for raisins and is defined by copious amounts of punishing heat and drought? Probably not, and yet, those people would be wrong to doubt you. Those doubters would also likely not be from Kingsburg, but are likely from L.A., or, yes, even Sweden (because, you know, raisins).

This year marks the 50th year of the annual Kingsburg Swedish Festival, a three-day smorgasbord of all things Swedish. Though celebrating 50 years, the festival has existed in one form or another since 1924. Beginning as an event hosted by a women’s group from the Concordia Lutheran Church for the elderly residents of the Concordia Home, it then became sponsored entirely by that church. Later, the festival was carried on by the Kiwanis Club of Kingsburg and is now organized by the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce. 

But why Kingsburg and why Swedish? The answer is a bit obvious once the history is reviewed: Kingsburg, formerly Kingsburgh, formerly Kingsbury, formerly Kings River Switch (wait, what?) was originally a small settlement of Swedish immigrants drawn to the area by hopes of good farming and free government land. By 1921, the area was 94 percent Swedish-American. That percentage has likely dropped in the last 95 years, but the roots remain, and so do the pride and culture that come with it.

For those who enjoy the word but are unsure about the meaning, a “smorgasbord” is a traditionally Nordic, particularly Swedish, meal in which multiple dishes are served at once on an open table. Amongst the favorites are Swedish meatballs, potato sausage and rice pudding. Americans tend to mistakenly infer smorgasbord to mean “buffet,” and thus add an exceeding amount of shame and regret to the originally beautiful, communal meal. While attendees feast, they can once again enjoy traditional Swedish entertainment as well as a plethora of shops
and vendors. 

Saturday, however, is when it gets real. Festivities begin at 7 am with a Swedish pancake breakfast. Another option for starting the day is the Dala Horse Trot. Not to be mistaken with a traditional Dala Horse, which doesn’t move but looks fabulous, the Dala Horse Trot can either be a two-mile run/walk or a 10K run/walk. If that sounds like too much work, there are still the pancakes, so that’s a win. The morning centers on the decorating of the Maypole and the Grand Parade that culminates in the raising of the Maypole at noon. All the while, traditional dance surrounds the affair; in fact, you can learn Gammaldans, one of the traditional Nordic dance styles. The day continues well into the night with traditional music, arts and crafts and other vendors. 

Both Saturday and Sunday, the action gets medieval as re-enactments of Viking battles in traditional garb comes onto the scene. Is it ironic to have positive anticipation about a Viking battle? Many of our ancestors probably would be horrified to hear so, but that’s progress for you. In addition to this, vendors will move from downtown to Memorial Park where the Arts and Crafts Fair will take place. 

Though starting out of humble origins as a means of giving back to seniors, the Kingsburg Swedish Festival has become a tradition that sustains a community and gives it direction into the future. After all, without healthy roots, nothing can stand the test of time.The 2016 Swedish Festival begins Thursday, May 19, on Draper Street in downtown Kingsburg. From 5 to 8 pm, attendees can enjoy a pea soup and pancake supper prepared by the Lions Club and the Kingsburg Cancer Volunteers, Swedish entertainment, a farmers’ market and the crowning of the Swedish Queen. The queen is a central cultural figure in other events hosted in Kingsburg and thus embodies the past becoming present. This is ever apparent in the fact that the queen has to present some of her public speeches in Swedish. Not an easy task, given that Swedish is not exactly widely spoken outside Sweden and, no, ordering at Valhalla’s in Visalia doesn’t count. 

On Friday, the festivities continue at Downtown Park with the Dress Review and Award Ceremony judged by local police. Naturally, one could not attend a Swedish event without engaging in a traditional smorgasbord.

Kingsburg Swedish Festival - May 21-22

Find them on Facebook 

For more information regarding the 2016 Kingsburg Swedish Festival, contact the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce at (559) 897-1111