GENEVA – The 64th Annual Swedish Days Festival kicks off today, and more than 250,000 people are expected to descend on Geneva for the six days of food, carnival, events, activities, sales, crafts and music.
The event officially opens at 10 a.m. today, and it will offer Creation Station at James and Third streets on the north side of the old Courthouse, with Hansel and Gretel performed by The Puppet Palace, exhibitions at the Geneva History Center, 113 S. Third St., Geneva, and Concerts on the Lawn beginning at 1 p.m. and an ice cream eating contest from 6 to 7 p.m. on the Central Stage.
The event is sponsored by the Geneva Chamber of Commerce with support by Cadence Health and the city of Geneva.
“We had so much new last year. We took what we did last year that was successful and added it this year,” chamber spokeswoman Laura Rush said. “We’ve brought back the zip line and Geneva’s Got Talent and expanded Sweden Väst – which means Sweden West. We’ve taken that and made it bigger and better.
Sweden Väst will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday in a big tent on North Fourth Street between State and Hamilton streets, Geneva. It features Swedish food, games, music and art, Rush said.
“Every hour for both days, we have some sort of entertainment going on, far more than we had last year,” Rush said. “Everybody who did it last year is coming back. We had other people who heard about it, and they emailed us. ‘Heard you have this event want to be part of it; what do we need to do.’ We’ll have Swedish artists, food, singers, dancers and a maypole is going to be raised about 11:30 a.m. Saturday.”
The maypole was designed by the event’s sponsor, Ingrid Rowlett of I.B. Quality Cabinets, Rush said.
“It’s about 10 feet tall, on a platform with a hinge, all decorated in green and wrapped with wiring so kids can put flowers and ribbons on it,” Rush said. “We’ll have the Swedish American Children’s Choir who will teach children the traditional maypole dance.”
The Swedish food includes meatballs, potatoes sausage, lingonberry sundaes, coffee, cardamom coffee cake and lemonade or blueberry slushies, Rush said.
The Swedish Chef from the Muppets and Pipi Longstocking will be at Sweden Väst. The chef will be played a Geneva High School student, and the Astrid Lindgren character will be played by a Geneva graduate.
“It will be a kind of Swedish immersion explosion,” Rush said.
Also returning is Geneva’s Got Talent semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the main stage, featuring 20 performers. The 10 finalists chosen then will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The winner will get $1,000 and the opportunity to ride in the Swedish Days Parade on Sunday.
The public also can vote on semifinalists on Facebook from 10 a.m. Tuesday to 10 a.m. Friday.
Food booths, featuring local charities and nonprofit agencies, will return. Rush said for many, it’s one of the biggest fundraisers of the year. So when people buy a roasted turkey leg from the Knights of Columbus or Hawaiian Shaved Ice from Hearts of Hope or Lemon Shake-Ups from Homes for Endangered and Lost Pets, they are supporting local causes, she said.
Returning events include the carnival every day, Kids’ Parade at noon Friday, the Friends of the Geneva Library used book sale from 5 to 9 p.m. starting Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Twilight Golf from 9 p.m. Friday to midnight Saturday at Stone Creek Mini-Golf in Wheeler park, using glow-in-the-dark golf balls as well as nightly concerts on the main stage.
The 43rd Annual Granquist Music Competition will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Geneva High School, 416 McKinley Ave., Geneva. The All-American Soap Box Derby races will be from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at Second Street between Campbell and Fulton streets, and the Swedish Days Parade starts at 1 p.m. Sunday, on Anderson Boulevard and Center Street, Geneva.
A full schedule of events and map of food offerings is available online at www.genevachamber.com, as well as printed schedules available at the chamber office, 8 S. Third St., Geneva.
In years past, estimates of how many people attended would be about 240,000. But in recent years, Rush said she thinks 250,000 or more would be a more accurate estimate.
“I based it [the increased estimate] on how long it takes me to walk from one end to the other,” Rush said. “For people experiencing Geneva for the first time, there are a lot of different reasons for being here. Swedish Days is 64 years old. We’ve been keeping something going for 64 years – that’s pretty darn good.”