We are a small town across the Columbia bridge and north about 12 miles. The original spelling was “Nasel” but was later changed to Naselle because of a dislike for the sound. The sound of a name is very important to this community!

Finnish-American Folk Festival
Finnish Costume on display at Naselle Archives Center.
Photo credit: Archives Center

The Finnish settlers came here more than 100 years ago. You can’t open a phone book without seeing names like Wirkkala, Haataja, Wiitala, Saari, Raistakka, Pakenen…etc.

Every other year, some of the descendants of Finnish immigrants, their friends and neighbors come together to plan and prepare for the Finnish-American Folk Festival held in Naselle at the school grounds.

The first festival was held in 1982, with only 200 visitors expected. They got over 2000! Since then, 50 or more volunteers come together to make it successful. The festival was incorporated in 1983 and received ‘501 C 3’ status in 1984.  We continue to hold a biennial festival on the last weekend in July on even-numbered years.  We also sponsor Grant activities throughout the year such as concerts and workshops.

The Washington State Arts Commission consider Naselle FAFF one of the most authentic folklife festivals in the state.

Sue Holway is credited with starting the Finn Festival. She wanted to acknowledge local Finnish Americans and pay tribute to their cultural talents in a public way.

Finnish-American Folk Festival
Anna Erhlund, original children’s choir director, Mike Swanson, current Finn Fest chairman, and Sally Swanson, original program director.
Photo credit: Barb Swanson

Darlene Bjornsgard, another long-time Finnish FAFF member, remembers when Sue came to her house with the idea of having a festival. Darlene has shared that Finns are very “loyal, hard-working and honest”. “Sisu” is a Finnish word that means fortitude or determination. The Finn Festival continues with “Sisu” from community volunteers, local sponsors and donors.

Sally ‘Manula’ Swanson, my mother-in-law, became determined to be a part of promoting the Finnish Festival in our town, so the culture could be celebrated and preserved. She was one of the early coordinators and planners for our festival, since 1982.  She and Sue Pakenen Holway helped to plan musical and cultural performances, bringing in groups from Finland as well as our very own local talents.

Anna Erhlund, another long-time Finnish FAFF member, started the first children’s choir which continued for years with great admiration from community members.

Finnish-American Folk Festival
Maypole dancers with director Haleigh See.
Photo credit: Haleigh See

My own daughters, now grown-up women in their 30’s, remember singing Finnish numbers in the choir as young girls.  The children wore traditional costumes and sang at festivals around the state of Oregon and Washington. 

The Maypole dancers, another traditional performance that spans the years, consists of 12 girls dressed in traditional costumes. They dance and weave ribbons around a decorated Maypole to a polka medley. There have been a few Maypole directors, including myself.

Haleigh See now directs the girls with much enthusiasm, being of Finnish descent herself. She is one of our younger members, eager to recruit other volunteers.

Finnish-American Folk Festival
Finnish Children’s choir.
Photo credit: Becky Underhill/director

During the 2-day festival, you can enjoy music and dance performances, take in cultural presentations, lectures and demonstrations, shop and eat your way through the Tori, take in the historical photograph exhibits, arts, crafts and antique rooms, the genealogy room, or learn the Finnish language.

The Tori, a marketplace for Finnish and American crafts, will be on hand in the school gym on Friday and Saturday. Outside, ALL kinds of food vendors will have items for purchase both Friday and Saturday.

The local ESA chapter will be providing a scrumptious Pannukakku (Finnish pancake) breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday. The Grays River Grange will be serving a delicious Salmon dinner from 12:00 to 3 p.m. in the school commons.

This year’s raffle prizes are simply fantastic and include: $500—First prize, A Finnish glass bird —2nd prize and a basket full of Finnish items—-3rd prize

The Program includes some very entertaining and popular performances, including “Allotar”, “Carl Wirkkala & his Band”, along with “Krist Novoselic and his “Giants in the Trees” band. The Maypole dancers will be performing both Friday and Saturday, and our local Finnish Children’s choir, now directed by Becky Underhill, will be performing both days. Our own local Kantele player, Wilho Saari, and National Performer of the Year (2011) will be performing with family members both days. Wilho can trace the tradition of playing Kantele for five generations in his family. A musician, teacher and songwriter, he has been an integral part of our festival.

Sue Holway will be directing a play she wrote herself! The performance will be on Friday night.

Sunday begins with a community-wide worship service followed by the
closing ceremony and then some coffee and pulla (Finnish cardamom bread). 

The dates for the festival are July 27th, 28th and 29th.  The theme this year is “Finnish 101”, in keeping with the 101st centennial year of Finnish Independence. We will even be offering visitors the chance to learn the Finnish language. 

Finnish-American Folk Festival
Wilho Saari: National Kantele player from Naselle.
Photo credit: Mike Swanson

The festival will host a golf tournament on Thursday, July 26th at the Peninsula Golf Course in Long Beach. All are welcome to join. Simply give Dave Leeland, (Golf chair) a call at 360-484-3277 or Mike Swanson, (Finn Fest chairman) at 360-484-3388.

There will be another Paavo Nurmi run this year, in honor of the famous Finnish long-distance runner: Paavo Nurmi. He was better known as the “Flying Finn”. He dominated long distance running in the early 20th century.

Contact Haleigh See at haleigh_see11hotmail.com for info.

There will also be a wife-carry contest, boot toss and phone toss. The wife-carry contest is very traditional in Finland as well as parts of the U.S.

The variety of musical and cultural performances will be taking place throughout Friday and Saturday in the new activities building of the Naselle School as well as the school commons. A copy of the current program is included on our website.

Feel free to look for information on the Finnish Festival website:



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