A Family-Focused Fyr Bal

Arguably one of Door County’s most recognizable festivals, Fyr Bal lights up the shore of Eagle Harbor every June. It’s inspired by traditional Norwegian celebrations of the summer solstice, so it marks the end of winter and the triumph of summer – a transition symbolized by the burning of the proverbial “winter witch.” 

Although the festival has its roots in longstanding Scandinavian culture, Door County’s distinctive version also celebrates the community of Ephraim. Every year, a chieftain is chosen by write-in ballot to preside over the festivities, and although the evening bonfires are the focal point of the festival, food, live music, dancing and prizes are also important elements. 

Of course, this summer is different from summers past in so many ways. With festivals such as Fyr Bal canceled, the beginning of summer may seem to be slipping by unannounced and uncelebrated. It’s disappointing that we can’t gather for Fyr Bal as usual, but its spirit doesn’t have to be canceled along with the traditional annual festivities. Check out the list below for three ways to celebrate the start of summer at home this year. 

Burn the Winter Witch 

Nothing says “Summer!” more than friends and family gathered around a fire. To celebrate Fyr Bal at home, construct a bonfire (or a more low-key campfire) in the backyard. Roast marshmallows, tell stories, sing songs and enjoy the fact that it’s no longer freezing outside! 

Of course, it’s crucial to observe fire-safety guidelines when building fires at home. Ephraim Fire Chief Justin MacDonald has four fire-safety tips to share with Pulse readers: 

1. Make sure the fire is at least 25 feet away from buildings or anything else that’s combustible. 

2. Have a water source nearby, such as a hose or buckets of water. 

3. Don’t burn anything but firewood, and especially do not burn treated wood of any kind. 

4. If the fire gets out of hand, call 911 right away. Firefighters would rather respond to a small fire than a big one!

Fyr Bal 2012. Photo by Len Villano.

Cultivate the Spirit of a Fyr Bal Chieftain 

Every year, community members choose a Fyr Bal chieftain in recognition of that person’s commitment to community service. Cultivate this same “chieftain spirit” at home by recognizing your family members for their good works and making your own commitment to help your community. 

You can make this commitment by doing things that may seem small but actually have a large positive impact, such as wearing a mask in public and reaching out to those who are especially vulnerable or isolated because of COVID-19. 

“In the current situation, many people have banded together to help their communities and embody the chieftain spirit,” said Lane Methner, the Ephraim Business Council’s tourism administrator. “From helping with food-service programs to making face masks and beyond, all of these efforts go toward the greater good of our community.” 

Focus on Your Family 

Although there doesn’t need to be a specific event happening to spend time together, celebrations such as Fyr Bal provide great opportunities to enjoy the company of those we love. During your at-home Fyr Bal festivities, focus on spending intentional, fully present time together – around the Fyr Bal fire, while preparing a special meal, playing a family game or in many other ways.  

“Fyr Bal is focused on bringing families together and the community together, and it is so amazing to hear stories of how people attended the festival when they were young and now they are bringing their children and grandchildren to the event,” Methner said. 

Although Fyr Bal looks different this summer, its tradition and spirit remain consistent. And who knows? When we look back from the future, maybe at-home Fyr Bal 2020 will stand out as one of the most memorable festivals.