MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Celebrating roots

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

Carrying cannoli at Festa Italiana.

© Festa Italiana

Roman warriors carry trays of cannoli at Festa Italiana in Milwaukee.

In general, I like my heritage. It involves Vikings and trolls and fiddle music. 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 when the immigrants arrived.

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.

African-American

June, Juneteenth Day in Minneapolis. At Bethune Park.

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

July, International Festival of Life in Chicago. In Washington Park.

August, Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago. On the South Side, ending in Washington Park.

American Indian

Irish dancers in a parade.

© Beth Gauper

Irish dancers step in a parade.

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 the Crazy Crow powwow calendars for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

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

Asian

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

Celtic

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

September, Celtic Highland Games of the Quad Cities at Centennial Park in downtown Davenport. 

September, Cornish Festival in Mineral Point, Wis. At Pendarvis and around town. 

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.

Chinese

June, Dragon Boat Race for Literacy in Chicago. On the Chicago River in Ping Tom Memorial Park, in Chinatown.

July, Chinatown Summer Fair in Chicago.

Czech

May, Houby Days parade in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In Czech Village

June, Czech-Slovak Festival in Phillips, Wis.

September, Dozinky fall harvest festival in New Prague, Minn. 

Danish

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

July, Aebleskiver Days in Tyler, Minn.

Dragons in a Chinatown parade.

© Chicago Chinatown

Dragons parade through Chinatown in Chicago.

August, Danish Festival in Greenville, Mich.

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

Dutch

May Tulip Time in Holland, Mich.

May, Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa.

May, Tulip Festival in Orange City, Iowa.

July, Dutch Festival in Edgerton, Minn.

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

French

July, Bastille Days in Milwaukee. On Cathedral Square.

German

May, Maifest in Amana, Iowa.

Midsommar at the American Swedish Instititute.

© ASI

Swedes celebrate Midsommar at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

June, Deutsche Tage in St. Paul. At the Germanic-American Institute on Summit Avenue.

July, Bavarian Blast in New Ulm, Minn..

July, German Fest in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

For more, see Toasting Oktoberfest.

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

Greek

June, Lincoln Park Greek Fest in Chicago. At St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

June, Greek Festival in Sheboygan, Wis. In Deland Park.

August, Taste of Greektown in Chicago. In Greektown.

Icelandic

July-August, Islendingadagurinn in Gimli, Manitoba, the largest Icelandic community outside Iceland.

Indian

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

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

Irish

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

Guitarists at Cinco de Mayo.

© Hoskovec Photo

Guitarists play at Cinco de Mayo in St. Paul.

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

August, Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo. In Lincoln Park.

August, Irish Fair in St. Paul. On Harriet Island.

August, Irishfest in La Crosse, Wis. On the Southside Fest grounds.

August, Irish Fest in Milwaukee. In Maier Festival Park. 

September, Michigan Irish Music Festival in Muskegon, Mich. At Heritage Landing on Muskegon Lake.

Italian

May, Festa Italia in Madison. At McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg, presented by the Italian Workmen's Club.

The Narren of New Ulm.

© Beth Gauper

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

July, Festa Italiana in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

July, Italian American Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park downtown.

July-August, Festa Italiana in Naperville, Ill. At the Naperville Settlement.

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

Japanese

August, Ginza Holiday Festival in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple near LIncoln Park.

Luxembourgish

August, Luxembourg Fest in Belgium, Wis.

Mexican/Latin American

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

Polka Dancers in traditional outfits

© Beth Gauper

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

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

July-August, Fiesta del Sol in Chicago. In the Pilsen neighborhood.

August, Festival Cubano in Chicago. In Riis Park.

August, Mexican Fiesta in Milwaukee. At Maier Festival Park.

September, Latino Heritage Festival in Des Moines. At Western Gateway Park.

Middle Eastern

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

Norwegian

May, Syttende Mai in Stoughton, Wis.

May, Syttende Mai in Westby, Wis.

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

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

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

Polish

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

A dancer at a powwow.

© Beth Gauper

Powwows are the linchpin of American Indian culture.

August, Polish Festival in Boyne Falls, Mich.

September, Taste of Polonia in Chicago. At the Copernicus Center.

Scandinavian

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

June, Fyr Bal Festival in Ephraim, Wis.

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

June, Scandinavian Summer Festival in Minneapolis. In Minnehaha Falls Park.

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

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

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.

Scottish

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

July, Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games in Eagan, Minn. In Central Park.

September, Wisconsin Highland Games in Waukesha, Wis. At the Expo Center.

Swedish

June, Midsommarfest in Chicago. Around the Swedish American Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood.

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

June, Swedish Days in Geneva, Ill.

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

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

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

Tulip Time in Pella.

© Beth Gauper

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

Swiss

June, Heidi Festival in New Glarus, Wis.

August, Swiss Volksfest in New Glarus.

August, Swiss Heritage Days in Alma, Wis.

Labor Day weekend, Wilhelm Tell Festival in New Glarus.

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

Ukrainian

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

August, Ukrainian Days in Chicago. In Ukrainian Village.

And everywhere else

In August, Winnipeg holds the two-week 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 February 15, 2021