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Christmas crafters prep for Julebyen festival

Jo Thompson adds string ornaments to a piece of driftwood to make a colorful holiday decoration while other members of the Julebyen Crafty Club work on similar handcrafted objects to sell at the outdoor marketplace next weekend. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)1 / 4
A snowy, sparkly scene on a candle holder is arranged by Pam West at a meeting of the Julebyen Crafty Club. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)2 / 4
Jo Thompson and Sharon Shelerud decide what to do with various string ornaments that didn't sell at last year's Julebyen festival. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)3 / 4
Dawn Davidson receives a reassuring pat from another member of Julebyen craft team while painting the Finnish flag on a napkin holder. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)4 / 4

Julebyen is almost here, but members of the unofficially named "Julebyen Crafty Club" in Knife River have been preparing for it since January.

Julebyen, which means "Christmas Village" in Norwegian, is a centuries-old Scandinavian and German tradition celebrated with ethnic foods, crafts holiday decorations and music. This year's festival, started in Knife River in 2012, is Dec.1-2.

A group of mostly women have met once a week in Knife River resident Anne Skadberg's large garage to make many of the handcrafted items for sale in the Julebyen marketplace. Though, as the festival gets closer, the members start meeting twice weekly.

What types of items do they make? That question elicits laughter as a response, followed by a long list of items: candle holders, gnomes, table runners, hot pads, handknit items, Christmas ornaments, decorations, wooden sleighs and jewelry.

"Every year it's a little bit different," Skadberg said. "We look at what sells well in the past, but everyone also brings in new ideas."

Some of the crafts come from family traditions; some come from browsing the social media app Pinterest; and a few ideas hitch a ride with Skadberg from her visits to Norway. In fact, that's where the idea of Julebyen came from a little over eight years ago.

Skadberg and her husband visited Norway around Christmas and went to a Julebyen festival. She took photos and shared some of them with fellow Knife River resident Carol Carlson, then-director of the Knife River Tour of Homes.

"They were trying to figure out a way to freshen up the tour," Skadberg said. "So I sent her some photos of Julebyen, but said it was way too much work. And next thing I knew, we were having a Julebyen."

A few men in Knife River stepped up to build the small huts that make up the Christmas Village. Others volunteered to make crafts and bake, and "it all came together," Skadberg said. The festival was also a convenient fundraiser for the Knife River Recreation Center, as it was damaged in the 2012 flood.

What keeps Skadberg continually working on Julebyen crafts?

"It's a lot of work, but I think Julebyen is Knife River's gift to the area," Skadberg said. "It's a family friendly, wholesome, festive weekend that you can attend for free."

Some members of the craft club have been lending their talents to the project since the first Julebyen.

Sharon Shelerud was not yet a full-time Knife River resident when she started crafting. When she moved up here full time two years ago, she dove head-first into Julebyen.

"I have no skill, but I'm good at painting and taking directions and working hard," Shelerud said. "But that's the beauty of it — everybody is valued here. You can do something to help and it's just as important. It's a great way to get involved with the community and meet some really nice people."

Julebyen starts Dec. 1 at 9 a.m. Various activities are planned throughout the two-day festival. Visit julebyen.us for the full schedule and more information.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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