Vikings and Gnomes and Trolls, Oh My! Nordic Fest in Decorah July 27-29

By Roz Weis,

Excitement is building as the largest festival of the year in Decorah opens later this week as organizers are gearing up for the 2023 Nordic Fest July 27-29.

Offering entertainment and fun for all ages, the 56th Fest celebrates the theme “Vikings and Gnomes and Trolls, Oh My!”

Nordic Fest celebrates Decorah’s Scandinavian heritage and culture each year with foods, sporting events, arts and crafts displays, guided tours, the annual bunad (Scandinavian clothing) show, kids’ activities, a grand parade on Saturday morning in the downtown district, fireworks, live music and much more.

And a Fest is not complete without the popular lutefisk-eating contest, the Troll’s Trolley (Pokey Pete) rides along Water Street, the Nordic Rock Throw, the Kanølopet (canoe race), the Elveløpet (5K and 15K), bags tourney, Ultimate Nordic Triathlon, the lawn and garden tours sponsored by Decorah Town & Country Club, and the list goes on and on and on.

Three entertainment canopy areas (Canopy #1, #2 and #3) are being set up along Water Street. Each canopy will boast a long list of live entertainment, including polka music, folk groups, jazz, bluegrass and rock for music lovers of all genres.

Kids’ activities are planned throughout the downtown district, including balloon art, caricatures, rock painting, the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre, ArtHaus face painting, “Gnomes in the Park” scavenger hunt style event, Sunflower play area, the Jolly Pops musical group, train rides and more.

The complete activity/entertainment canopy schedule is listed in the official program guide.

Official 2023 Fest Programs, listing all the Fest events, and Fest buttons are available now at the information area at Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce/Visitor Center office at 507 W. Water Street. Official Fest merchandise also is available.

All the Fest events are mostly free because of generous donations from community members and area businesses, and from Fest-lovers across the world. Nordic Fest. Fest membership packages are available online at, and more information about membership is outlined in the program.

Opening ceremonies

The 2023 Fest kicks off with opening ceremonies at 6:45 p.m. in front of the Winneshiek County Courthouse. Opening ceremonies will include performances by Decorah’s popular Nordic Dancers and Orchestra and the Luren Singers, as well as the official introductions of the Nordic Fest Board of Directors, Grand Marshals and Skol Recipient, and the traditional Scandinavian flag and bunad processions.

Fest foods

The food booths set up along the Fest route support non-profit groups in the area. Attendees will savor the Fest as they see and taste traditional foods like lefse, varme polse, rommegrot, Norwegian meatballs, Nordic Waffles with pulled pork, kringla, sandbakkels, krumkake, lingonberry ice cream, rosettes and more, along with traditional American favorites like hots dogs and bratwurst, pork-chop-on-a-stick, popcorn, Moo-Mobile milk shakes, an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast and more.

Fest board

The 2023 Fest Board of Directors has been busy all year preparing for the July celebration. Board members include President Ariana Cervantes, Vice President Christopher Miculinich, Treasurer Cole Steffens and the following: Brian Solberg, past president; Chris Hick and Linda Wolfs, arts and crafts; Andi Hemesath, bags tournament; Christopher Fassbender and Gabriel Eide, beverage garden; Jeni Holtan Grouws and Simon Cropp, entertainment; Stee Wilke, food; Brittany Todd and Jenna Rodriguez, kids’ activities; Amy Bruening and Jeni Holtan Grouws, Nordic Dancers; Gabriel Eide, parade; Brian Solberg and Simon Cropp, physical management; Nathan Todd, Brian Solberg and Sam Boeke, sporting events; Samantha Spilde, merchandise; Sarah Brandt, membership; Brittany Todd, social media assistant; Chris Hick, Luren Singers liaison; Boyd Wasson, Sons of Norway liaison; Chivonne Marlow, Vesterheim, liaison; and Dave Smutzler, Decorah City liaison.

Administrative support provided year ‘round to the Fest Board is provided by Alyssa Ritter of Northeast Iowa RC&D, and Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce staff members Jessica Rilling and Amanda Streeper.


Fest honorees this year include Sue Sander, the recipient of the 2023 Nordic Rest Skol Award, and David and Gail Judisch, the 2023 Nordic Fest Parade Grand Marshals.

The Nordic Fest Skål Recipient (previously flag recipient) is an individual or individuals who have demonstrated exceptional and continuing support of the Fest. For 26 years, Sue Sander has devoted her time to the Nordic Fest Board, helping continue and establish traditions for all to enjoy. She has spent more than two decades of time, energy, and passion in nearly every board position. She served as president three times, in 2003, 20009 and 2013.

Fest Grand Marshal is an individual or individuals providing outstanding services to the community. Since 1974, David and Gail Judisch of Decorah have devoted their time, energy, and talents to various endeavors around the Decorah community and beyond. They also, proudly, haven’t missed a Nordic Fest in 49 years. They both grew up on farms in Northeast Iowa, eventually meeting in high school. After pursuing degrees in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, they married and returned to the Northeast corner of the state. David was hired by the late Weston Noble of Luther College fame, to fill a spot in the music department at Luther. Soon after, Gail was hired as a nurse in Luther College’s Health Services Office. They originally stayed in Decorah for the jobs but ended up developing roots in the community. David and Gail both retired from Luther (David as professor of music and Gail from Health Services), each offering each offering decades of service to students, and fellow staff and faculty members.

Throughout their careers, and now in retirement, David and Gail have committed countless hours to community organizations. David has served as the Luren Singers Director for 48 years, performing with the group for the King of Norway on five separate occasions. He has been elected as Director-in-Chief of the Norwegian Singers Association of America. Gail was a founding member of the Northern Lights Women’s Choir and continues to be passionate about World Relief. He has been repeatedly elected as Director-in-Chief of the Norwegian Singers Association of America. Their participation in organizers and activities throughout the Decorah community and beyond are many.


The world-renowned Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in the heart of downtown Decorah is full of Fest activity this week.

Located on Water Street, Vesterheim will sponsor folk art exhibits and demonstrations, museum tours, musical entertainment, a readers’ theater, flute choir, and the popular Skjaldborg Viking Encampment with entertain Fest-goers again this year.

This is just a sampling of the many activities attendees can enjoy over the three-day event. Specific times, locations, maps and more are listed in the official program guides and online at

Nordic Fest is traditionally held the last full weekend of July. Future Fest dates are July 25-27, 2024; July 24-26, 2025; and July 23-25, 2026.

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