: Erik Davidson

Get Cozy in Oregon With Scandinavian Flair in Winter

Check out these modern wellness traditions from Oregon’s Scandinavian American community.
December 9, 2023

Vast evergreen forests. Wide stretches of farmland. Snowcapped mountains on one horizon and clear coastal waters on the other. Is it any wonder that so many Scandinavians — people from Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark — say the Pacific Northwest landscape reminds them of home?

Between 1890s and 1910, when railroads exponentially increased travel to the West Coast, thousands of Scandinavian families put down roots in Oregon, drawn by the surroundings and economic opportunities in trades like logging, fishing and farming. They shared their culture in communities like Astoria, Portland, Junction City and Coos Bay.

Today, Oregon’s Scandinavian American community keeps its heritage alive and well. Two wintry wellness traditions — hygge, a Danish and Norwegian concept related to embracing warmth and coziness, and fika, a Swedish tradition focused on taking a break, typically with coffee and a snack — are celebrated each year. They help generate warmth, closeness and community in the cooler weather. Here’s our guide to how and where to get cozy in a similar way anywhere in Oregon.

Viking Fest (Courtesy of Jarl W. Berg / Hoodoo Ski Resort)

Open Air and Ski Clubs Across the State

Connecting with nature — even in the winter months — is an important part of Scandinavian culture. In Norway friluftsliv, or “the outdoor life,” refers to the concept of unwinding in the open air, no matter what the weather. For a community approach to outdoor adventure, Oregon’s 11 regional Nordic ski clubs are volunteer-led groups devoted to traditions like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, telemark and backcountry skiing. Connect with a local chapter for ski lessons, group excursions and overnight trips. In Oakridge, join a guided tour with experts from outfitter Cog Wild for backcountry Nordic skiing and snowshoeing near Willamette Pass. Meet fellow winter enthusiasts on a group tour or book a private tour with a guide to experience the magic of winter. 

If ax-throwing or Viking sword-decorating sound like a great time, check out Hoodoo Ski Resort in the Central Cascades Viking Fest each March with free, family-friendly activities celebrating Nordic culture. 

Terwilliger Hot Springs (Photo by Melanie Griffin / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Wellness, Scandinavian-Style

Anette Gullholm grew up attending Christmas dinners and Norwegian Independence Day celebrations at the Sons of Norway Lodge in Portland with her Norwegian father. Now she’s the communications director for Nordic Northwest, a Portland-based cultural center dedicated to celebrating and preserving Scandinavian culture. Gullholm says that fika and hygge are both related to an overarching Scandinavian value of wellness.

“It’s about taking care of yourself,” she says. “It’s about being able to unplug and take a breath.”

In Oregon that might look like spending the day snowshoeing on a mountain trail or soaking in a natural hot spring like Terwilliger Hot Springs 55 miles east of Eugene, then cozying up indoors with a bottle of local spirits to toast the season. Or it might involve gathering with friends at a pub or a cafe to chat and enjoy something delicious.

Fika is both an expression and an action,” Gullholm says. “When I lived in Norway, I had a co-worker who would always say ‘Ska vi fika?’ It means, ‘Shall we take a break?’ You might have a coffee or a cinnamon roll.”

Hygge, on the other hand, is more of a feeling than an action. “It’s about that warm atmosphere. You might have a good book next to a fire. It can be with oneself or with family and friends,” Gullholm says. “It’s about being able to decompress and completely relax.”

Hazella Bake Shop

Cozy Cafes and Treats for Fika Across the State

Ways to kick back and experience fika can be found throughout the state. In Portland and Hood River, visit one of the four locations of the Broder restaurant group, where you’ll find modern takes on traditional Scandinavian comfort food. In the mid-Willamette Valley, stop on Main Street in Lebanon to visit Hazella Bake Shop, a small, sunny storefront with ambience and pastries that draw on Scandinavian tradition — don’t miss their cardamom brioche buns. In Central Oregon, head just off the busy main street in the mountain town of Sisters to visit Fika Sisters Coffeehouse, where the bright, airy cafe serves as a gathering space for locals.

For a once-a-year treat, order prune pinwheel pastry tarts from Suomi Hall, a Finnish lodge based in Astoria — you’ll have to order ahead and time your visit. These holiday treats are made by volunteers every year in early December, but watch the website for how to order, as they often sell out.

Aimsir Distilling Company

Glogg and Aquavit: Scandi-Style Winter Cheer

Many countries bring cheer to dark winter nights with mulled wine, and in Sweden glogg is the winter drink. Try an Oregon version of this spiced winter wine from Edenvale Winery south of downtown Medford. Sip your glogg, served warm, while visiting their tasting room, a remodeled carriage house on the grounds of the historic Voorhies mansion. 

Another option is to toast the season with aquavit, a spirit with a long tradition in Scandinavian countries. In Oregon sample award-winning aquavit at Aimsir Distilling’s restaurant and cocktail lounge in Portland, or purchase a bottle of another Oregon-made aquavit, Krogstad, and use one of the recipes on their website to create your own Scandi-style cocktail.

Gather Sauna House

Sauna Culture in Oregon

In Finland sauna culture is so integrated into society that there are an estimated 3 million saunas in a country of only 5 million people. No surprise then that Oregon, which boasts a historic population of residents with Finnish heritage, is an excellent place to experience a sauna getaway. Portland-based Loyly (named after a Finnish word that describes the steam that rises after water is added to hot rocks or heaters) offers public or private sessions in a cedar-lined sauna. For something a little different in Central Oregon, Gather Sauna House offers a mobile sauna experience in their Oregon-made, wood-burning saunas — book a private rental or attend a pop-up sauna event. A hosted experience drawing in elements from ancient plant-based traditions in the Baltic area, you’ll steam then plunge in the Deschutes River or in a cold bath, depending on the location. These are just a few of the sauna experiences offered in Oregon.

From Jan. 10 to April 24, fans of the steamy ritual in Portland may want to soak in the “Sauna is Life” exhibit at Nordia House, part of a national series of events for National Sauna Week in February.

Astoria Nordic Heritage Park (Courtesy of Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce)

Nordic Heritage and Gifts in Astoria

The coastal town of Astoria in Oregon’s northwestern corner is one of the bastions of Scandinavian culture in the state; in the early 20th century more than one-third of the city’s population identified as Scandinavian, with Finns as the largest cultural group. You can learn more about the history by visiting Astoria’s Heritage Museum or taking a walking tour of the Uniontown neighborhood. The Astoria Nordic Heritage Park is a public pocket of green space along the downtown waterfront featuring exhibits about the immigrant experience. While you’re in town, check out Finn Ware in downtown Astoria (along with a satellite location in Portland), an outpost for Nordic housewares, gifts and imported candy and treats since 1987. 

Ole Bolle troll crafted by Danish artist Thomas Dambo (Photo by Erik Davidson)

Trolls and Traditions in Portland

To really dive deep into Scandinavian lore — and even see a troll, a common feature of Scandinavian folk tales — head to Nordia House. Tucked into the hills of Southwest Portland, Nordia House is the headquarters of Nordic Northwest, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating Scandinavian culture.

Gather with friends for a fika break at Nordia House’s on-site Swedish cafe, Broder Soder, then head outdoors to seek out an installation in “Northwest Trolls: The Way of the Bird King,” an intercultural art project launched in summer 2023. Follow curving pathways beneath mature oak and evergreen trees until you find yourself eye-to-eye with Ole Bolle, a 19-foot-tall troll crafted entirely out of recycled materials by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Visiting the massive, whimsical outdoor sculpture is free and open to visitors during daylight hours. 

Other don’t-miss experiences on the Nordia House campus: seasonal tours of Fogelbo, a historic Swedish-style log home filled with one of the largest private collections of Nordic antiques and folk arts in the United States; rotating art exhibits; and seasonal events like artist-led Nordic Christmas card making.

Another seasonal tradition is ScanFair, which happens annually in December at the Oregon Convention Center. It may be Oregon’s largest gathering of traditional Scandinavian food, drinks, shopping and entertainment. Gullholm, who’s been attending ScanFair for years, says it’s similar to Christmas markets in Oslo or Stockholm. She recommends the Swedish pancakes, pickled-herring eating contest, and daily folk music and dance performances, as well as getting outdoors. “Taking a step back, breathing in the air and connecting with the land — I think that really resonates in Oregon,” she says.

About The

Jennifer Rouse
Jennifer Rouse relishes the chance to write about Oregon. A fifth-generation Oregonian, Jennifer loves running, wandering through bookstores, and feasting on local wine and cheese. Alongside her husband and three daughters, she likes to explore hidden corners of the state via car, foot, bike and canoe.

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