After at least doubling in size in each of its first three years, topping out at 3,000 last year, Knife River’s Julebyen festival is expanding to three days this year with the hope that the Norwegian-themed Christmas festival will continue to grow in 2016.
The festival started in 2013 after Chris and Nana Skadberg took a trip to Norway. Julebyen is a Norwegian term that means “Christmas village,” and the Skadbergs’ visit happened to coincide with a local Julebyen celebration. Festival organizer Paul von Goertz said the pair were fascinated by the tradition and decided to share it with their friends upon returning to Knife River.
“It’s a celebration of the holiday season that involves the whole community,” von Goertz said. “The emphasis is on food, crafts, music, traditional items and traditions of Christmas that have been around for years. They came back to Knife River and were pretty impressed by it, and we wanted to do something special … as a fundraiser after the flood in 2012.”
That first year, around 700 people came to the festival, and each year since, the number of visitors has more than doubled.
Vendors for food and crafts populate the “Gnome Dome,” a heated tent set up for visitors to enjoy a tasty snack or shop for a unique handmade gift. Von Goertz said the festival is great for kids and adults alike and is like a “Norman Rockwell reversal of Black Friday.”
“Each of these artisans have been selected by a jury, so what they have to sell is very unique and different. There’s no plastic and nothing from China,” he said.
As Julebyen has more than quadrupled its original size, the organizers have tried to add features to accommodate the larger crowds and have more things for children to do. Two years ago, Julebyen organizers worked with North Shore Scenic Railroad to have trains bring people up to Knife River from Duluth. Last year, about 150 people took the train to Julebyen. The cost for the train is $15 for adults and $5 for children.
The festival is expanding to three days this year, with the “Julefest Food Experience” by New Scenic Cafe from 5-8:30 p.m. Friday in the Gnome Dome. The dinner will feature a wine selection by New Scenic Cafe as well as “Julebiers,” a beer brewed especially for Julebyen by Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors. The dinner is $20 for adults and $45 for families.
Also new this year is an expanded children’s program. There have always been craft making stations for kids, but this year, von Goertz said there will be materials for at least 500 kids, and students from the University of Minnesota Duluth art department will be there to lend a hand.
There will also be a train leaving Knife River for “Troll Canyon” at two different times on Saturday.
“Troll Canyon is really Sucker Bay Bridge, which is a really spectacular view into the river,” von Goertz said. “We’ll have trolls down in that canyon and we’re going to tell kids that they are really nasty if you wake them up but that they are frightened off by bells, and there is a little skit that goes along with it.”
Tickets to go to Troll Canyon are $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
Other highlights of the Julebyen festival include demonstrations from artists like Dale Burton of the Burton Forge and Gallery and lefse making from Knife River’s own “Lefse Ladies.” There will also be a couple of different treasure hunts for kids on Saturday and Sunday of the festival as well as sleigh rides and dog-sledding demonstrations. Finally, there will also be a tour of homes in Knife River with a shuttle taking people from house to house for $15.
“It’s a totally new and different experience and expression of the celebration of the Christmas season in a very family centered, Norman Rockwell-style Christmas,” von Goertz said.
Julebyen runs Friday through Sunday. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit julebyen.us.
Written by Jamey Malcomb for the Lake County News-Chronicle.