It occurred to me that this is why immigrants seek each other out in their new countries. As an exile among exiles, there is no need to explain the customs of "the old country," or the reasons for leaving, or the challenges of acclimating to a new culture. Of course, it's fun to do so, so you spend a lot of time laughing about all of these things, comparing sect to sect (who knew that some OALC call ALC "Lips"?) and gaining new insights into the ongoing riddle of your existence.
Curiously, the Scandinavian Festival itself did nothing for me. Other than the Sami stuff, the costumes, music, dancing, and merchandise held scant interest. Even the familiar foods—Swedish meatballs, lefse, prune tarts—held little appeal. And while the sea of Nordic faces was warm and welcoming, it felt peculiar to be among so many pale people . . . I've been away so long I've reacclimated to the multi-ethnic reality that is my city.
The celebration of Midsummer's Eve (St. John's Eve among Christians) was from ancient times a festival of the summer solstice. Some people believed that golden-flowered mid-summer plants, especially Calendula, and St. John's Wort, had miraculous healing powers and they therefore picked them on this night. Bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. In later years, witches were also thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings.On Friday evening, there was a "hex-burning," apparently a Danish Midsommer tradition in which revelers throw crudely-made dolls (hanks of straw bound by yarn and black cloth) into a bonfire (the bonfire was a trash barrel in the parking lot). When I asked what this ritual signified, I was told that it was "throwing away bad luck," but when I saw this gentleman hosting a large straw witch about to meet her doom, I wondered if more was going on. When I came home, I looked it up, and discovered the ritual commemorates the witch burnings of history. Creepy!
A more modern justification can be found here, in psychological research that indicates there is value in the act of writing down negative thoughts and throwing them away (or "moving" them to an onscreen trashcan). The findings are not surprising. Ritual is effective because it concretizes the imaginary, but of course, it is only effective for those who surrender to it. The desire and ability to do that is highly situational.
Maybe we make our own luck. I certainly felt lucky, leaving Astoria with new friends, happy memories, pants that still fit (having passed on all but a few prune tarts), and the resolve to plan an extoots reunion. Perhaps next summer in Minneapolis? It could coincide with Finnfest, August 8-10.