European Viking Themed Festivals: An Expression of Identity
By Kevin Hannam and Chris Halewood
Journal of Heritage Tourism, Vol.1:1 (2006)
Abstract: Viking themed festivals are now widespread throughout Europe and are a popular expression of heritage identity. The Anglo-American stereotypical representation of Viking heritage is of sea-faring, sexist and bloodthirsty men raping and pillaging. In contrast to this image, in Scandinavia the dominant image of Vikings in popular culture finds fewer references to war and warriors. Here the Viking representation is very much concerned with the people who ‘abroad were known as pirates, but at home lived in a well-ordered society’. European Viking themed festivals have largely attempted to give greater credence to the latter representation. However, it is often the more bloodthirsty image that initially inspires Anglo-American tourists to visit sites. Based upon qualitative research, in this paper we examine the geographical and organisational depth of Viking themed festivals in Europe. Furthermore, we argue that at Viking themed festivals the past is constructed and idealised by participants as an authentic way of life and that this is used as an expression of identity.
Introduction: Viking themed tourism and leisure have grown since the 1970s mainly in Scandinavia, but also elsewhere in western and eastern Europe. New Viking themed museums have been established, and older museums have shifted their emphasis towards more Viking period material. The current Viking themed tourism and leisure industry is now quite extensive being based upon various museums, heritage centres, theme parks, village reconstructions and seasonal festivals, trading fairs or markets supplemented by the activities of Viking re-enactment or ‘living history’ societies. Interest in Viking themed tourism and leisure has led to a very full calendar of festivals and events that individually can attract up to 15,000 visitors daily. The active membership of the groups or societies that form the basis of any Viking festival may reach several hundreds but active membership is relatively small and more commonly in the order of 10 or 20.