Because Norwegian, Danish and Swedish are similar languages, barriers were minimal among the ‘Skandies’, as they were nicknamed. Unlike English settlers, their drink of choice was coffee, not tea.
In the Wairarapa an annually celebrated event was the ringriderfest in which riders tried to pick rings from a row of posts with a levelled lance. And the game of fugleskydning tested marksmanship as pot shots were taken at an iron bird atop a post in the middle of a field. Among the Mauriceville Danes, Sunday evening dances were popular, especially when Jens Larsen fashioned a fiddle out of maire wood. Young settlers kicked up their heels to the polka, waltz and mazurka until sunrise when they walked home, changing straight into work clothes.
In the early years four periodicals appeared in Scandinavian languages, but they were short-lived. Most settlers were keen to become naturalised as British citizens. With intermarriage and internal migration, languages died with the first and second generations.
Danish was last widely spoken in Dannevirke in the 1900s and Norwegian in Norsewood in the 1920s. Norsewood‘s centenary celebrations in 1972 revived interest in Scandinavian culture if not language. At celebrations 50 years earlier an old-timer remarked that ‘practically nothing but Norwegian would have been heard’. 1 Today the main vestiges of the language in these original settlements are surnames, street names and gravestone inscriptions.
Many settlers missed their religion. At first, visiting ministers travelled vast distances to hold services in homes or under towering trees. In 1881 the Scandinavian Wesleyan Church opened at Mauriceville North, followed by Lutheran churches in Norsewood (1882), Palmerston North (1882), Mauriceville West (1884) and Dannevirke (1887).
Churches were community focal points and ministers organised relief funds for bushfire victims. On Sundays processions of fair-haired blue-eyed children skipped along the forest roads, preceding mothers wearing embroidered pinafores and customary kerchiefs. Fathers followed in sombre Sunday black. Scandinavians outside the planned settlements either made do with rare visits from travelling pastors, or changed denominations.