Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Swiss Days in Midway

Swiss Miss Royalty in traditional dress for Midway’s Swiss Days parade. Photo courtesy of Brooke H. Reynolds

“Are you going to clean up those horse droppings?” You have to be on your toes when the Beautiful Wife asks such questions—it’s not her style to give orders, she’s subtler, but I knew my good standing was at risk. The BW meant the offerings of passing horses in our walkway out front. Right there, you know we aren’t in Laguna—we’re in Midway, Utah, a small town high in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains where her Swiss ancestors settled, her late father grew up, and we care for the ancestral Victorian started in 1890. (Though her ancestors were Swiss, the only architect then was English.) We’re here for Swiss Days, Midway’s equivalent of Laguna’s Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters compressed into Labor Day weekend.

The roots of Swiss Days started 76 years ago as your typical farmers’ harvest festival. Over the years, it’s grown, now attracting, it’s said, 100,000 fans over two days to a town that only recently grew to 6,000. It’s also claimed to be the biggest craft fair west of the Mississippi, with hundreds of vendors. Though it marks the end of summer, it’s also the start of Christmas shopping and is held on the town square, once the site of old Fort Midway. Where else can you listen to a professional yodeler, hear alpenhorns, and buy bratzelis, the thin Swiss cookie made in a mold, from ladies in traditional Swiss garb? There are even Swiss tacos, like a Navajo taco, but served on a scone.

The whole community gets involved. Before Swiss Days starts, the townspeople are busy with the thousand details of setting up. Pastures are mowed for car parking. Food concessions run by volunteers are set up. A barbecue pit is dug, and a wood fire is started to provide a bed of coals for the roasts that will be pulled out two days later for the closing dinner on Saturday night. On Sunday, the people go to church. Monday, they come back to finish cleaning up.

On Saturday, after choosing between the pancake breakfast and 10K race, everyone lines Main Street for the parade, and kids know to bring a bag for the candy tossed from passing floats. There are marching bands, high school cheerleaders, old tractors, smiling politicians, somber veterans, Honored Citizens (western artist Robert Duncan this year), and a float with the Swiss Miss Royalty. The Swiss Miss contest reflects small-town values, with girls just 12-13 years old wearing traditional Swiss dress of their own design. They complete a service project for their school, serve as hostesses and entertain, singing and dancing Swiss songs.

Yes, the Swiss flags still wave in Midway, honoring the founders who came here as religious refugees to make a new home. The alpenhorns still blow, and the BW, one more time, tells grandchildren of Uncle Cooney (actually her great-uncle) yodeling his cows home in the evening. And folks wipe their eyes when they hear the sentimental favorite “Edelweiss” with its closing phrase, “Bless my homeland forever.” There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

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