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Knife River dresses up like Norwegian holiday village

Posted by: Jenna Ross Updated: December 5, 2013 - 11:21 AM

A gnome. A dozen red huts, adorned with garland. Fish cakes.

Knife River, which sits along Lake Superior's north shore, is being transformed into a Christmas village, patterned after a Norwegian festival known as Julebyen.

This weekend, mythical creatures will lead visitors among the huts to hot chocolate, a live nativity and vendors selling their handmade wares.

A couple got the idea for the event after traveling to Egersund in southern Norway, where they were charmed by the tradition. Knife River residents hope that the first festival -- months in the making -- will help pay for repairs done after the 2012 flood tore through town.

"There are 300 people in the community, and I don't think there is one person who is not involved," said Carol Ojard Carlson, chairwoman of the Julebyen committee.

Since the 1980s, Knife River has hosted an annual holiday home tour. Visitors -- with cider and cookies in hand -- explore Christmas-clad houses, many with lake views. But last year, the tour was canceled.

Dramatic flooding of the Knife River in 2012 filled the town's recreation center with mud and debris. Volunteers rebuilt, with the help of donations. But by the time they were supposed to be planning for the home tour, the town's major fundraiser, "we were too beat," said resident Paul von Goertz. "We reluctantly canceled it."

Organizers were hoping to do a bigger home tour this winter. So after seeing snapshots from Norway, a Julebyen seemed like a natural fit for Knife River, home to many of Norwegian descent.

"They were so struck by the simplicity and classiness of it," Carlson said. "It's not a lot of glitz and glamor. It gets back to the basics."

Knife River residents designed and sewed costumes. Volunteer electricians wired the little red huts. The garden club fashioned greenery.

A home tour is a part of the festival, which also features a musical celebration and other events. Things begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Knife River Recreation Center, 199 Alger Smith Rd. See a schedule (and learn how to pronounce Julebyen) at julebyen.us.

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