NASELLE - Naselle's Finnish-American Folk Festival and FinnFest USA 2006 will join forces for an extra special celebration in Naselle July 26 to 30, 2006.

According to president Marianne Wargelin, FinnFest USA first started in 1983 in Minneapolis. The idea was to have a festival every year that would be held in various Finnish communities around the country.

The festival was modeled on the Finnish Kentajuhla, or local gathering. But in addition to food, music, and traditional costumes, the festival would also work to bring the traditional and more liberal Finnish communities together.

There would be sports events, in honor of the great Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, handcrafts, concerts, and a banquet. But in addition, there would be lectures and discussion panels and exhibits highlighting Finnish culture.

The second FinnFest USA festival was held in Fitzberg, Mass., and was once again a great success. It attracted around 4,000 visitors.

"From there," said Wargelin, "it began to take on a life of its own."

The Festival has continued to move back and forth across the country, from Florida and Los Angeles to Washington, but focusing on the five main regions in the country were there are large Finnish-American populations. The festival gained a constituency and name recognition; and a core group of performers and speakers make it a point to participate in whatever local fair FinnFest USA partnered with.

Then in 2000, Wargelin made it a point to visit Naselle's Finnish-American Folk Festival.

"It was in some ways like going to a county fair," she said. "It was people getting together."

She thought the two festivals would make a great combination, so she began talking to Susan Holway, a longtime FAFF organizer.

FAFF first started in 1982, making it one of the oldest Finnish-American festivals in the country. The purpose of the festival is "to support and encourage, to keep alive the Finnish-American traditions, language, and customs of the early settlers of Naselle and the entire Lower Columbia River area."

The festival has become a sort of homecoming and family reunion for people. But said Holway, you do not have to be Finnish to enjoy it.

"You can be a Finn for a day," she said.

The FAFF also has a deep-rooted association with Kaustinen, a renowned Finnish city which holds a folk music festival each year, attracting thousands of visitors.

Naselle has individuals who also perform on traditional Finnish instruments, such as the kantele, an almost harp-like, string instrument, during the festival.

The festival, which is held every-other year, has some staple attractions, such as a huge genealogy chart made by historian May Adair.

There is rieska (rye bread) and pulla (cardamon bread), which Hallman calls Finnish comfort food.

The two festival organizers hope in 2006 the festival will be larger and attract people to the area from all over the country, highlighting the region's charm. They are including Astoria as part of the festival.

"I don't think Naselle can do this without Astoria," said Hallman.

The motto for FAFF and FFUSA 2006 is "Love and Unity," which they believe starts with local communities. They are working to maintain the small town aura of the FAFF, while still including as many people as possible. The festival also plans on highlighting the Lewis and Clark celebration, which will culminate that year.

Currently, there are five people working on the festival steering committee, but they hope to expand to 10 to 15 people.

The 2006 festival promises to be a memorable event, but book Naselle reservations early. After all, there are only 25 motel rooms available in town.

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