Sofia Nygaard’s reign as Junior Miss Norway in the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival is a testament to her family’s heritage in Astoria and in Scandinavia. In 1922, her great grandparents immigrated here from Trondelag, Norway. The largest wave of Scandinavian immigrants to the coast came before Sofia’s ancestors in the late 19th century. According to the festival’s site, by 1910, 35% of Astoria’s nearly 10,000 residents were first or second generation, Nordic people.
In honor of this rich heritage, the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival has been celebrated for over fifty years on the north coast of Oregon. It encapsulates the heritage of a community who immigrated to a place much like their home country. Wooded and driven by water, fishing and forestry were professions that were familiar to Scandinavians when they arrived in the Pacific Northwest a century ago.
Sofia is proud to be representing her heritage on this year’s court. She is especially enjoying her appearances with the festival. “My favorite part is saying my speech,” she says of her responsibilities, plus she is very excited to ride in the parades this summer.
The Scandinavian festival features traditional events like music and dancing, a tug of war and even a joke contest. Sofia especially likes watching the Danish donut contest. “Seeing how many donuts people can stuff in their mouth in five minutes without hands is funny,” Sofia explains. “There is powdered sugar everywhere.” Carolyn Nygaard, Sofia’s mother, reminds her of the culture behind the contest. Aebleskiver are pancake balls traditionally made with apple slices, which is where their name comes from, but modern versions don’t include the filling. The winner of the contest in June receives the traditional recipe and a cast iron pan to make the sweets at home.
Aebleskiver aren’t the only delicacies served at the festival. The Nygaard family are members of the Sons of Norway, a fraternal benefit society. At the festival, the Astoria chapter of the society serves lefse, a delicious soft flatbread slathered with butter, cinnamon and sugar. The Sons of Norway are also the benefactors that crowned Sofia in her reign. Each year the group honors and invites a junior and senior court member to represent Norway. Sofia and Kaitlyn Bakkensen were chosen this year. Sofia hopes to be chosen again as a senior court member when her cousin Baylor is a bit older. “By the time she’s eight, I’ll be a junior in high school,” Sofia explains. Family connections are important to Sofia, and to the whole family. They are all supporting Sofia as she practices and performs at the festival.
Sofia’s grandparents live in Astoria as do countless other family members. The Nygaards moved to Astoria three years ago to be closer to all of them, “If you put all our family together it would fill this room,” Carolyn explains. They all get together for the holidays and Sofia enjoys baking krumkake and other Scandinavian specialties with her grandma, Julie Nygaard.
Julie also helped Sofia with her traditional costume for the festival. “All of my costume is made from Norway,” Sofia says. The fabric is from Trondekag in Central Norway where Sofia’s family hails from. Her blue woolen dress is embroidered and she dons an apron. Her hair is braided in a crown, customary in Scandinavian culture. The jewel of Sofia’s costume, however, is the solje at her neck. It is a silver pin that was her great great grandmother’s. Solje were historically thought to be magical. The hanging pendants reflect evil away from the wearer. Trolls and other threats are warded away by its enchantment. Lucky for Sofia, since she says, even though it is tradition at the festival, “I refuse to kiss the troll!”
Outside of speeches and parades, Sofia enjoys playing sports. Her favorite is soccer, but she also enjoys softball, volleyball and basketball. Sofia is a 2nd grader at Astor, a K-2 elementary in Astoria. She will be moving up to Lewis and Clark Elementary next year and is looking forward to putting in a performance at the talent show to end out her year. She’s a great performer, whether it be hailing her Norwegian heritage or dribbling around the court. You can see Sofia and her senior court member partner, Kaitlyn, at this year’s Scandinavian Festival June 15-17th at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds.