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Norsk Høstfest Celebrating Scandinavian Culture

Posted by Annie Bennett, Co-Editor 8/24/2023

For 44 years, Norsk Høstfest, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has celebrated Scandinavian culture and the heritage of the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden at the North Dakota State Fair Center in Minot. This year’s four-day event, September 27-30, celebrates all things Scandinavian including world-class entertainment, authentic Scandinavian cuisine, Scandinavian culture displays, and handcrafted Norsk merchandise.

“For four days, the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot are transformed – the halls are renamed and adorned in traditional and modern Scandinavian décor,” says Jessica Ackerman, Norsk Høstfest board president. “Children are transfixed by wandering trolls, dancing fish and raucous Vikings. From ABBA to bluegrass, rosemaling to woodcarving, lefse to lutefisk, there’s a performance, demonstration, dish, dance, or Norwegian sweater waiting for us. It’s an event that activates all our senses and invites us to celebrate the region’s unique heritage. We can be transported to Scandinavia without leaving the state.”


The Beginning

Norsk Høstfest was founded in 1978 by the late Chester Reiten and a group of friends who shared his interest in celebrating their Nordic heritage. On the organization’s website, Reiten’s son, David, notes, “My father and some people decided they wanted to celebrate their Scandinavian heritage. My father, in the mid to late 1970s, found out about his heritage. He found some letters that had been written to my grandfather probably 80 years before, all written in Norwegian. So, my father decided he wanted to find out more about his Norwegian heritage, in fact, he took a trip over there. He took great interest in it. He went over to Norway, found his relatives and then from that he decided to have a Scandinavian festival to celebrate not only Norwegians, but all of Scandinavia.”

The event has been held annually since, apart from 2020 and 2021, which were cancelled due to the    COVID-19 pandemic.

“Norsk Høstfest was established with the goal in mind of preserving and sharing Scandinavian culture, heritage, and educational programs – making it a generational event that allows everybody to come and experience those traditional values your grandparents hold close to their hearts and passing it on for generations to come,” says Alyssa La Deaux, director of strategic communications for EPIC Companies, which co-promotes the event with Norsk Høstfest. “It’s really a family affair at its core.”

The event attracts people from around the world, even from Scandinavian countries. “We have Scandinavian entertainers, chefs, artisans, and demonstrators who proudly participate,” says La Deaux. “The event brings economic value and stimulation to the Minot community. Norsk Høstfest is North America’s largest Scandinavian festival with tens of thousands of people attending from all over.”


The Volunteers and Vendors

“So much of the festival is run by volunteers,” says La Deaux. “Volunteers are truly the backbone of the festival. They run a lot of the day-to-day operations those four days.”

Duane Brekke, a long-time attendee, has been to every day of every Norsk Høstfest since it opened. “I used to go with my parents,” says Brekke, who also is a long-time Norsk Høstfest board member and volunteer greeter and has volunteered with his church making Rømmegrøt. “I love people. The people make the event. They have good attitudes and attitude is everything.”

La Deaux notes 2,000 volunteer shifts are filled by approximately 800 people. “There is a way for everyone to be involved in the festival. People travel with tour buses, people set up their RVs for multi-day camping, people volunteer and sponsor – whether you’re an attendee or you want to sell merchandise or scoop ice cream, there’s a place for you at this event,” she adds.

“We have about 200 vendors attending this year,” says McKenzy Braaten, EPIC Companies chief communications officer, adding some are local, but many come from around the county, region and even internationally. “We seek vendors that have a connection or offer Nordic themed products.”

“We encourage vendors to wear traditional attire while working their booths,” La Deaux notes. “We love to see when vendors go all out and are themed and authentic, it just really adds to the entire experience.”

Don Karsky and his wife, Julie, own Scandinavian Flag Weaving from St. Croix Falls, Wis. The couple has been a vendor at Norsk Høstfest since 1988, selling hand-woven Nordic flags, placemats and table runners. “We bought an antique loom for $2.50 in 1972,” says Karsky. “We started collecting string and set-up the loom about 10 years later.”

He notes one of his first customers wanted a placemat in yellow and blue, because they were Swedish. It was Julie who had the idea to weave the Swedish flag and took it to a show. “At that show, Pam Davy, who was associated with the Norsk Høstfest at the time, invited us to the Norsk Høstfest. The rest is history! We haven’t missed a year until COVID-19.”

It takes the Karskys about seven hours to set up their booth at Norsk Høstfest. “Our selling point is that we bring a loom, and we weave live wherever we go,” he says. “We make some of the weaving on location right before your eyes. If we don’t weave, it isn’t believable that one person could weave all the products. People love their Scandinavian heritage.”

“We keep coming back to Norsk Høstfest because of the people,” adds Karsky. “The road family, some of which we have been at shows with since 1988, and the customers. Not just people who purchase from us, but people who come by and visit. We appreciate people stopping and visiting just the same as a customer.”

Karsky notes it is fun to be part of something that is bigger than themselves at the festival. “We hope there is another generation of volunteers, vendors and the people who attend the Høstfest.”

The Karsky’s booth will be located in Copenhagen Hall, along with the other demonstrators. Vendors are spread throughout the the Norsk Høstfest halls.


The Entertainment and Cuisine

The Norsk Høstfest Great Hall offers a variety of options for entertainment. “This year’s Great Hall entertainment includes Million Dollar Quartet, Daniel O’Donnell, The Oak Ridge Boys, Terry Fator, Daughtry, and Brothers Osborne,” says La Deaux. “There are also the free side stage shows with entertainment happening all day, every day.”

In addition, many entertainers are active throughout the festival grounds and many host activities for kids.

“Visitors can also expect really good food. We offer an endless amount of cuisine to pick from – you could honestly eat somewhere for all three meals every single day and never try the same thing twice,” says La Deaux.

“We are hoping to attract people who may not have attended previously,” says La Deaux, noting the Norsk Høstfest is offering free admission to children 12 and younger. “We are encouraging people to come and spend the entire day here – there is breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, as well as an abundance of tasty treats.”


A Unique Environment

It is important for Norsk Høstfest to embrace Nordic culture. The festival strives to provide a genuine environment, so attendees feel like they are in Scandinavia. Each hall is named after the five Scandinavian capitals – Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Reykjavik. “Each hall is decorated in the theme of the country with banners hung from the ceiling. We try our best to make it a different aesthetic when you walk into each hall and seeing something that represents that specific country,” says La Deaux, adding it takes about two weeks to set up the festival.

“When you walk into the Viking Village you are immersed in a world of Viking activities. They are handmaking beads, shaping metal into useful tools, there are wild forest cats, live combat battles going on, demonstrations with bow and arrows, and they are teaching you to cook over an open fire. It is like you are being transformed back in time,” La Deaux continues.

Braaten says the atmosphere gives attendees the feeling they are immersed in Nordic culture and countries. “You must be here to experience it,” she says. “It is all about the way you make people feel, and I think being immersed in this environment, you feel a special way being there.”

“Minot is so proud to hold such a big event,” Braaten notes. “There are people from all over that come and make so many lasting connections. It is a big pride thing and brings people to an area that they wouldn’t normally visit. It is important to note, it is also a statewide pride thing for North Dakota to have such a big festival happening locally.”

“Whether you spend one afternoon or several days at the Høstfest, your participation helps sustain a legacy that has held strong for many decades,” says Ackerman. “I would encourage people to explore our region’s ancestral histories and join us as the festival evolves to blend a celebration of the past with a more modern Scandinavia. Like a Viking saga, or a tale spun by Hans Christian Andersen, we hope to build something that lasts beyond us.”

“Everyone should come to Norsk Høstfest to see the way the Midwest was settled,” says Brekke. “People can see what our ancestors experienced. Once a year, all of the Scandinavians can go back to tradition, and tradition means a lot.”

Norsk Høstfest has two ticket options available. The general festival admission ticket allows attendees into the festival and the Great Hall tickets get attendees into the festival, as well as the show in the Great Hall. Camping sites are available on the North Dakota State Fair Grounds, which makes it easy for attendees to take in all of the attractions.

Festival doors open at 12 p.m. on Wednesday and at 9 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Dining and shopping vendors are open until 8 p.m. daily. For more information on Norsk Høstfest, call 701-852-2368 or visit

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