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Durham celebrates 38th Leif Erikson Day Hurrah

By Phoebe McPherson, Managing Editor

The sun was still sleeping at 6 a.m. Sunday — as was much of the Durham and the University of New Hampshire community. The temperature was a balmy 37 degrees. But as the sky turned a clear blue, the annual Leif Erikson Day Hurrah took off from the Durham Laundromat toward Young’s Restaurant.

It was anything but a quiet, lazy wake-up for some members of the Seacoast community as they celebrated the 38th year of the Leif Erikson Day Hurrah. Descendants from Norway, Scandinavia, Sweden and Denmark joined together to honor the man some believed to have discovered America.

“For noble deeds and daring done, we all salute Leif Erikson!” bolstered the crowd, a Nordic chant, not only during the parade and their practice rounds (to make sure everyone was loud enough, according to Peter Anderson) but also inside of Young’s Restaurant afterwards.

The group of about 50 gathered in the Laundromat up to an hour before the start of the parade. By 6:04 a.m., an energetic Anderson, who took over the parade with his father Ken five years ago, announced into a megaphone, “Oh my gosh, we’re late.”

The crowd practiced their chant two times with Anderson.

“Do you think that was loud enough?” he asked a small girl in the front. Children led the parade, the majority of them carrying flags small and large from Scandinavian countries. Costumed folk came after the children. Finally, adults who didn’t dawn traditional Scandinavian garb followed.

“The reason people get up, dress up, is to respect their forefathers,” Peter Anderson said.

Nobel K. Peterson, a former UNH professor, and his two friends started the parade years ago. The trio met each Sunday morning to do their laundry together and afterwards ate breakfast at Young’s Restaurant.

“It was one Dane, one Swede and one Norwegian,” Ken Anderson said.

One year they decided to put their Laundromat-to-Young’s breakfast tradition to the steps of honoring Leif Erikson. That was back in 1977 and has grown to numbers of over 100 at times.

This year’s festival was modest; a crowd of about 50 took part to honor the Norse man.

Part of the crowd was Bjorn and Peggy Olsen, who sat at a small table next to the front windows inside of Young’s Restaurant. Time: 6:30 a.m. They sipped on mugs of coffee and reminisced on past parades. The two Barrington residents arose at 4:45 a.m. to be a part of the festival. They’ve participated every year.

“Right from the beginning,” Peggy said, adding the years up to be over three decades.  

She wore a handmade Nordic outfit.

“This pattern is 1,000 years old,” she said of her outfit, which is worn once a year. “I made it just for the parade.”

Her husband is 100 percent Norwegian, moving to Maine in 1948. He wore a Scandinavian sweater. “My mother made this for me,” he said.

Like Bjorn, Gale Henderson has Norwegian descent as well — from her father. She has participated for a dozen years.

In the same booth sat three children. The best part about the parade for them? Cake. Each year, Ken Young and his restaurant bake a cake for the big day.

“I think it’s great that they keep the tradition up,” Henderson said.

President Barack Obama sent out a proclamation this year for Leif Erikson Day, as is done on most years to announce Oct. 9 as “Leif Erikson Day.”

The parade in Durham, though, is always celebrated on a Sunday morning. Inside Young’s, the proclamation was read, skits performed and cake eaten.

Outside, the world slowly woke up.

No UNH students, though, were present for the parade.

“There’s no students here,” Peter Anderson said playfully. “I was at a party about three hours ago. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be there.”

According to Ken Anderson, the parade has attracted attention from all over the world.

The parade itself is said to be 25 feet, “Someone measured it, and I believe them,” Ken Anderson said.

When walked, depending on the size of one’s feet, it is 16 steps. Aptos, California has claimed the title of World’s Shortest Parade with its 4th of July parade stretching 0.6 miles.

Unofficially, it can be claimed, Durham’s Leif Erikson Hurrah is the shortest parade in the world. “We don’t know [if it is], but no one’s challenged us,” Ken Anderson said and chuckled.

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