by James Garcia Jr.
Ever wonder how the Kingsburg Swedish Festival got its start? As stated in the official Chamber of Commerce pamphlet from this year’s Festival, in 1924, a group of women from the Concordia Lutheran Church presented a mid-summer festival for residents of the Concordia Home, a retirement home located near the present Kingsburg Hospital.
A year later the celebration was moved to the church where it continued until 1941. The Kiwanis Club sponsored the event, holding it at Kingsburg High School. The celebration was skipped in 1945 due to war-time restrictions.
The Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce has sponsored the event since 1996. This May 19 will begin the 86th year and the 46th annual celebration of the Kingsburg Swedish Festival.
“The Swedish Festival is a throwback to some special times,” said Jess Chambers, Executive Director of the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce. “It increases the awareness of the heritage of the founding fathers of Kingsburg. From the commerce side, it provides some needed business traffic for the retail and food service. It’s a one-of-a-kind celebration in a one-of-a-kind community.”
“It is a pleasure to be able to take time away from the usual life concerns and stop to just enjoy the gathering and festivities of a relaxed low key heritage celebration,” said Kingsburg Mayor, Bruce Blayney, when asked what the event meant to him as mayor. “My background is not Swedish, but it is great to be a ‘traditional Swede’ for a day or two.”
The festival begins Friday, May 20th; however, pre-festival activities will kick off Thursday, with the season opening Kingsburg Farmer’s Market at 5 p.m. as well as a Swedish Pea Soup and Pancake Dinner between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., all taking place on downtown Draper Street.
On Friday the event begins in earnest with many fun and interesting activities to both see and partake in. Between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.m at The Village Mall, one can take in the juried Art Show at the Kingsburg Art Center. Arts and Crafts booths will begin opening after 5:00 p.m. The traditional Swedish Smorgasbord will begin serving at 5:30 p.m. and continue until 7:30 p.m. at Coffee Pot Park. In the park, Swedish Entertainment will accompany the meal and continue until 9:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m., the new Swedish Festival Queen will be crowned.
The Police Department will hold their annual Dress Review at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Police Station. “The Swedish Festival inspection for the Kingsburg Police Department has been a tradition for well over 25 years,” said Kingsburg Chief of Police, Jeff Dunn. “It is the one time of the year that we take [the opportunity] to recognize those men and women who serve the community 24/7 as first responders to all emergencies. Many of our staff are volunteers in every sense of the word as they do not receive any type of pay or other compensation.”
The 2011 Police Department photo will be taken, a new Sergeant will be recognized, and awards will be presented. “This year we will be presenting awards ranging from academy graduation recognition to honoring 10 years of service,” continued Dunn.
Many of the shops will be open beyond their regular hours downtown. Late registration for the Saturday morning annual Dala Horse Trot continues from 5:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce Office.
Saturday, the Kingsburg Rotary Club will hold the 30th Annual Dala Horse Trot downtown. It is a 2-mile run or walk which will begin at 7:00 a.m. A Swedish Pancake Breakfast will be served between 7: 00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. in the Coffee Pot Park for $6.00 per person. The Lions Club will be serving this famous recipe along with sausage, locally grown peaches, milk, coffee and juice while strolling folk musicians entertain. Also, the decoration of the Maypole will take place between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. Decorated with birch branches, it will eventually make its way via the parade to Draper Street where it will be raised. Traditional Swedish music and dancing will take place.
Perhaps the highlight of the Swedish Festival is the Grand Parade. Draper Street will be filled with High School Bands and Drill Teams, equestrian units, floats, antique vehicles and dignitaries, to name just a few. It will begin at 10:30 a.m.
Food booths will be available after the parade for the day and will be located next to Coffee Pot Park. Beside the Kingsburg Branch of the Fresno County Library, the Friends of the Library will hold their used book sale. Scandinavian foods and crafts as well as demonstrations of Scandinavian heritage will be present all day.
During the entire festival, a varied selection of arts and crafts will be lining Draper Street, in the area known as the Swedish Village, as vendors and local businesses present some of their merchandise. “I love to be on the street with the other vendors,” said Pamela Ekizian, owner of Pamela’s Boutique & Gifts. “My store is open all weekend, plus I always have a booth selling my jewelry, purses and hats. The festival is special because of the sense of community it brings, and seeing new people come to enjoy our little town. Personally, I love to see family and friends gather on the street to be close to the excitement of the parade and to let people know about the store, first hand.”
There may even be a vampire sighting or two as yours truly will be on hand, signing copies of my book, Dance on Fire. It is the PG-13 fictional account of vampires loosed upon Kingsburg just before the Swedish Festival, wreaking havoc and threatening the event. (Check out KRL’s interview with James & a review of his book)
After the parade and throughout the day, authentic Swedish and Scandinavian Dancing will take place, accompanied by live music played on traditional instruments. In the evening, and open to everyone, dancing to Swedish music will continue in Coffee Pot Park between 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
Opening after the parade and until 3:00 p.m., the Kingsburg Historical Park is offering a trip back in time. You can relive the days of covered wagons and view antique farm equipment, along with visiting an old fire station, medical offices, print shop and general store. One can even walk through an authentic homestead which is decorated in 1900’s décor. The admission is free and the park is located behind the high school at 2321 Sierra Street.
Among so many things to see and do, there will also be a Welcome Ceremony and Hambo Dance/Demonstration at 10:00 a.m. on Draper Street; a performance of The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet at 2:00 p.m. by E & e’s Jr. Acting Company; and an All-Star Jazz Band Concert at 5:00 p.m., featuring KHS graduates from the last 50 years. (link to event pages)
“All citizens, both new and old, enjoy the opportunity to show why they have chosen Kingsburg as the place they want to live,” said Mayor Blayney. “The Swedish Festival is a wonderful old fashioned small town event, allowing us to share what a really, really nice place Kingsburg is.”
The Kingsburg Swedish Festival takes place May 19 through 21. For more information, please call The Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce at (559) 897-1111.