Even though we reside on a much lower latitude, Seattle and the Pacific Northwest’s landscapes at certain times resemble those of Scandinavia. Both places display large woodland areas, majestic mountain chains, and are refreshed by the salty winds from nearby oceans. In fact, it was largely due to these similarities that we now witness similar demographics between both regions as well. During the late 19th century, many Nordic immigrants came to Seattle in the businesses of fishing, lumberjack work, canneries, boat-building, and more. In 1910, according to Seattle’s Nordic Cultural Heritage, Scandinavians made up the largest ethnic group in the state of Washington.
About an hour and a half away from Seattle is a small town of Norwegian origin called Poulsbo. In 1875, immigrant Ole Stubb was joined by other Norwegian families to found the town, named after their hometown of origin in Norway, Paulsbo. Nowadays, the town proudly holds festivals such as the Midsommer Fest (a joyful summer celebration – no acid trips or human sacrifices as depicted in the A24 movie), the Jule Fest, and the Viking Tour. Although Poulsbo’s Little Norway–a part of town which displays traditional and themed attractions–is very small, its atmosphere may truly bring one to feel far away from the daily life of Seattle. During the 2022 Jule Fest, the place reminded me of Leavenworth, another town in Wash. state themed after a European country (Germany).
The journey from Seattle to Poulsbo also contributes to the visiting experience. By taking the 40-minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island from downtown Seattle, you’ll be surrounded by ocean. And, likely, grey skies and cool weather. Once in Bainbridge, the 390 Kitsap Transit bus takes you from the ferry terminal to the heart of Poulsbo amongst evergreen trees. I highly recommend getting there by public transportation since walking is the best way to explore the town’s beauty. The Jule Fest is a reference to the traditional celebration of the winter solstice, also known as Jule or Yule. The festival displays a Holiday Bazaar with traditional arts and crafts, food, and a Father Christmas whom you can meet and take photos with in the historic downtown. You will also see many residents of Nordic heritage wearing traditional clothing. The day’s greatest attraction, however, happens at sunset: the welcoming of Santa Lucia and the Jule Bonfire.
The Nordic tradition consists of a procession led by Lucia, whose name relates to the Latin word “lux” or light, and who wears “light in her hair” – a crown of lit candles, which today may be replaced by battery-powered ones. In English, she is known as Saint Lucy, one of the first Christian martyrs and patron saint of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. In Christian tradition, she is associated with sight and is often depicted carrying a silver tray containing her eyes. Near the end of her life, she was sentenced to death by fire by Roman authorities due to her being forced into prostitution. In the flames, however, she remained intact, and therefore finally lost her life to a sword in her neck. Although the Pagan origins of the festival do not bear the somber and violent story of Lucia, both traditions merged and the date is now a combination of both cultures.
In Poulsbo, the procession incorporates residents, dressed as Vikings or adorned with other traditionally Nordic garments, who carry torches and candles along with the leading Santa Lucia Bride who is dressed in a long white gown with candles on her head. The festival happens annually on Dec. 13. with the Lucia tradition taking place around 5 p.m. The lighting of the great Jule bonfire follows after the sun has set.
To explore one’s surroundings not only means engaging with a region’s history and origins, but also establishing an inspiring connection with those whose cultures shaped one’s own. In a globalized world, each place now bears pieces of each other, and by discovering the peculiarities of a region, one may discover those of distant places or times. While it is important to acknowledge pioneer immigrants who established their families here, the customs and culture of those native to the region also bear immense contribution to what we now know as the American Pacific Northwest. Cultural exchange and acknowledgement is in the essence of progress, both of the collective sphere and of that of the individual.
Sophia is an international student from Brazil, who recently moved to Seattle to pursue her higher education. Music, writing, and Science are her broadest and greatest passions. Sophia is a young classical singer, as well as an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa. Despite being highly artistic and emotional, she bears great love for the Natural Sciences, and has the desire to pursue a Physics & Astronomy later in life. At the moment, she works for both the Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery. Within all forms of writing, she believes the greatest role of the writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth, in the broadest possible way.
This was a very interesting and thoroughly written article. It makes me want to hop on the Bainbridge ferry and check out Little Norway the next time I’m in Seattle! Congratulations on creatively spreading the word!