MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Celebrating roots

No matter where you're from, there's a heritage festival for you.

Dancers in the Wilhelm Tell pageant.

© Beth Gauper

Residents of the Swiss town of New Glarus stage a Wilhelm Tell pageant over Labor Day weekend.

In general, I like my heritage. It involves Vikings and trolls and populist politics. At festivals, tow-headed children dance around in cute outfits.

But the food . . . not so much. When it comes to herring and lutefisk, I'd rather be Polish. Plump pierogi with sour cream and sauteed onions — now, there's an ethnic food I can love.

Luckily, it's easy to piggyback on other cultures in the Upper Midwest. Yes, many of us came  from Germany, Ireland and Norway.

But we also came from Greece, Ghana, Switzerland, Iceland, Scotland, Ukraine — and there are festivals honoring those cultures and those of the Dakota, Ojibwe, Cree and Ho-Chunk, who already were here.

Some of these festivals are the biggest in the region — Decorah's Nordic Fest brings 75,000 people to a town of 8,000 — so it's a good idea to plan far in advance.

If you’d like to reconnect with your heritage, or explore someone else’s, here's a list of summer and fall festivals

And for stories about ethnic communities in the Upper Midwest — Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, German, Dutch, Swiss, Dakota and Ojibwe — see Heritage Travel.

For more on towns that celebrate their heritage, see our Ethnic towns stories.

For exploring the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, see Globe-trotting in Chicago.

Here are some of the best festivals in 2016.

African-American

June 19, Juneteenth Day Festival in Milwaukee. On Martin Luther King Drive.

June, Juneteenth Day in Minneapolis. At North Mississippi Regional Park.

Aug. 13, Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in Chicago. On the South Side, ending in Washington Park.

American Indian

All powwows and wacipi are celebrations of culture, and many are held on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. For a list, see Powwow primer or check Drumhop.

Tulip Time in Pella.

© Beth Gauper

At Pella's Tulip Time, descendants of Dutch immigrants wear lace hats called poeffers.

Sept. 9-11, Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

For more about Dakota and Ojibwe culture in the Upper Midwest, see Heritage travel: Dakota and Ojibwe.

Asian

May 27-28, CelebrAsian: The Annual Asian Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western  Gateway Park.

Belgian

July 10-11, Belgian Days in Brussels, Wis., in Door County.

Caribbean

July 1-4, African-Caribbean International Festival of Life in Chicago. In Union Park.

Aug. 7, Belize Day in the Park in Cicero, Ill. At Hawthorne Race Course.

Celtic

March 12, Celtic Festival in Moorhead, Minn., at the Hjemkomst Center, sponsored by Moorhead Parks.

For St. Patrick's Day festivals, see Toasting St. Pat.

Sept. 16-17, Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities at Centennial Park in downtown Davenport. 

Sept. 23-24, Cornish Festival in Mineral Point, Wis. At Pendarvis and around town. 

Chinese

June 25, Chicago Dragon Boat Race on the Chicago River past Chinatown.

July 17, Chinatown Summer Fair in Chicago.

Czech

May 20-22, Houby Days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Czech Village.

June 11, Cesky Den in Hillsboro, Wis.

June 17-19, Czech-Slovak Festival in Phillips, Wis.

Sept. 19, Dozinky in New Prague, Minn. 

Polka Dancers in traditional outfits

© Beth Gauper

Polka dancing is a big part of Milwaukee's Polish Fest.

Danish

May 28-29, Tivoli Fest in Elk Horn, Iowa, at the Danish Museum.

July, Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn.

Aug. 19-21, Danish Festival in Greenville, Mich.

For more about Danish culture in the Upper Midwest, see Heritage travel: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

Dutch

May 5-7, Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa.

May 6-7, Dutch Days in Fulton, Ill.

May 7-14, Tulip Time in Holland, Mich.

May 19-21, Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa.

July 8-9, Dutch Festival in Edgerton, Minn.

July 29-30, Holland Festival in Cedar Grove, Wis., near Lake Michigan just south of Sheboygan.

French

July 14-17, Bastille Days in Milwaukee. On Cathedral Square.

German

April 30-May 1, Maifest in Amana, Iowa.

June 2-5, Maifest in Chicago. In the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

June 17-19, GermanFest in St. Paul. At the Historic Schmidt Brewery.

July 15-17, Bavarian Blast in New Ulm, Minn..

July 29-31, German Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

Sept. 9-11, German-American Festival in Chicago. In Lincoln Square. 

For more, see Toasting Oktoberfest .

For more about German culture in the Upper Midwest, see Germans in the Upper Midwest.

Greek

June 24-26, Greek Fest in West Allis, Wis. At Wisconsin State Fair Park.

Aug. 27-28, Taste of Greece in Chicago. In Greektown.

A dancer at a powwow.

© Beth Gauper

Powwows are the linchpin of American Indian culture.

Icelandic

July 29-Aug. 1, the 127th Islendingadagurinn in Gimli, Manitoba, the largest Icelandic community outside Iceland.

Indian

July 23-24, Festival of India in Thunder Bay. In Marina Park.

Aug. 20, IndiaFest in Milwaukee. In Humboldt Park.

Aug., IndiaFest in St. Paul. On the State Capitol grounds.

Irish

May 27-30, Chicago Gaelic Park Irish Festival in Oak Forest, Ill.

June 11-12, Irish Festival in Oshkosh, Wis. In Riverside Park on the Fox River.

July 8-10, Irish Fest in Chicago. At the Irish American Heritage Center.

Aug. 5-7, Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo. In Lincoln Park.

Aug. 12-14, Irish Fair in St. Paul. On Harriet Island.

Aug. 12-14, Irishfest in La Crosse, Wis. On the Southside Fest grounds.

Aug. 18-21, Irish Fest in Milwaukee. In Maier Festival Park.

The Narren of New Ulm.

© Beth Gauper

The Narren of New Ulm, Minn., folk figures with wooden masks, appear at many German festivals.

Sept. 15-18, Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon, Mich. At Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.

Italian

June 3-5, Festa Italia in Madison. At McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg, presented by the Italian Workmen's Club.

July 22-24, Festa Italiana in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

July 29-30, Viva L'Italia in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park downtown.

July, Festa Italiana in Rockford, Ill. On the grounds of Boylan High School.

Sept. 3, Festivale Italiano in Hurley, Wis.

Japanese

Aug. 12-14, Ginza Holiday Festival in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple near LIncoln Park.

Mexican/Latin American

Dragons in a Chinatown parade.

© Chicago Chinatown

Dragons parade through Chinatown in Chicago.

May 7, Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul's District del Sol on the West Side.

May 14, Cinco de Mayo in Darlington, Wis. On Main Street.

June 10-12, Fiesta Waukesha in Waukesha, Wis. In Frame Park on the Fox River, just west of Milwaukee.

Aug. 12-14, Festival Cubano in Chicago. In Riis Park.

Aug. 26-28, Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

Sept. 24-25, Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Water Works Park.

Middle Eastern

July 15-17, Middle Eastern Festival in West St. Paul, Minn. At St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Norwegian

May 13-15, Syttende Mai in Stoughton, Wis.

May 13-15, Syttende Mai in Westby, Wis.

May 20-22, Syttende Mai in Spring Grove, Minn. For more, see In the land of Norwegians.

June 18-19, Midsummer Festival near Westby, Wis. At Norskedalen heritage museum. 

For more about Norwegian culture in the Upper Midwest, see Norwegians among us.

Polish

Guitarists at Cinco de Mayo.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

June 17-19, Polish Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park. For more, see Polish for a day.

Aug. 4-7, Polish Festival in Boyne Falls, Mich.

Aug. 12-14, Twin Cities Polish Festival in Minneapolis, on the Mississippi riverfront across from downtown.

Aug. 18-21, Taste of Pierogi in Bridgeview, Ill. At Toyota Park.

Sept. 2-5, Taste of Polonia in Chicago. At the Copernicus Center.

Scandinavian

June 3-5, Scandinavian Days in Story City, Iowa.

June 10-11, Nisswa-Stãmman Scandinavian Folk Festival in Nisswa, Minn.

June 18-19, Midsummer Fest at Norskedalen Heritage Center in Coon Valley, Wis.

June 18, Fyr Bal Festival in Ephraim, Wis.

June 19, Scandinavian Midsommar in Eagle, Wis. On The Green at Old World Wisconsin; free.

June 24-25, Midwest Viking Festival and Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, Minn.

July 28-30, Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa. For more, see Nordic nirvana.

Irish dancers in a parade.

© Beth Gauper

Irish dancers step in a parade.

September, Scandinavian Day in South Elgin, Ill. In Vasa Park on the Fox River.

Scottish

June 4, Scottish Fest & Highland Games in Milwaukee. At Hart Park in the suburb of Wauwatosa.

July 9, Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games in Eagan, Minn.

Sept. 2-4, Wisconsin Highland Games in Waukesha, Wis. At the Expo Center.

Swedish

June 10-12, Midsommarfest in Chicago. At the Swedish American Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood.

June 19, Swedish Day in Geneva, Ill., held since 1911. In Good Templar Park.

June 21-26, Swedish Days in Geneva, Ill.

June 25, Midsommar Dag in Scandia, Minn. At Gammelgården Museum.

A Viking ship float in Spring Grove.

© Torsten Muller

A Viking ship is part of the Syttende Mai parade in Spring Grove, Minnesota's first Norwegian settlement.

July 6-10, Karl Oskar Days in Lindstrom, Minn., in the Chisago Lakes area.

For more, see Swedes in the Upper Midwest and Sweden in Minnesota.

Swiss

June 24-26, Heidi Festival in New Glarus, Wis.

Aug. 7, Swiss Volksfest in New Glarus.

Aug. 12-13, Swiss Heritage Days in Alma, Wis.

Sept. 2-4, Wilhelm Tell Festival in New Glarus.

For more about Swiss culture in the Upper Midwest, see Swiss at heart and Heritage travel: Switzerland.

Turkish

September, Turkish Festival in Chicago. At Pioneer Court on the Magnificent Mile.

Ukrainian

July 29-31, Canada's National Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba. 

September, Twin Cities Ukrainian Heritage Festival in Minneapolis. At the Ukrainian Event Center near Nicollet Island.

And everywhere else

July 31-Aug. 13, Winnipeg holds Folklorama, with 45 pavilions celebrating the nationalities who have come to this melting pot on the Manitoba prairie.

Pavilions are devoted to the countries listed above as well as to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Hungary, India, Spain, Portugal, the Philippines, Serbia, Croatia, Cuba, El Salvador, Indochina, Russia, Slovenia and the Tamil region on the Indian Ocean.

Venues are throughout the city.

For more about Winnipeg, see Bazaar on the prairie.


Last updated on April 27, 2016

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