17. mai – “Y” Such a Cheerful Hurrah?

Riding in the 17.mai parade in Chicago, 2015

Tomorrow, 17. mai (May 17), Norwegians at home and overseas celebrate Norway’s Constitution Day. Young and old dress up in their finest attire, many in national costumes. They all bring little flags and join a parade led by a marching band from the local school.

In Washington, D.C., we had a head start on the celebrations.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Prime Minister Erna Solberg arriving at a 17.mai reception at the Ambassdor’s residence in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Ragnar Thoresen)

First, on Saturday, May 14, when Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Foreign Minister Brende, Minister of Climate and Enviornment Helgesen and other dignitaries attended a reception at the Norwegian residence. Then, on Sunday, there was a family picnic in Carderock Park outside of D.C., with hundreds of participants from the Norwegian and Norwegian American community in the area. Vital ingredients included traditional hotdogs, a marching band – and lots of ice cream!

As you read this, I’m in Alaska getting ready to celebrate with the Norwegian American community in Anchorage and then Petersburg. Since arriving in D.C., my goal has been to travel to different parts of the country to celebrate Norway’s constitution day with Norwegian Americans.

Amb. Aas in Minneapolis, 2015

Last year I was in Chicago, where I participated in a weekend-long celebration. First, a large dinner hosted by the Norwegian National League, then the next day a parade complete with marching band, classic cars and children walking down the streets of Park Ridge just outside Chicago. The parade ended with a grand ceremony, dancing and, of course, traditional hotdogs and ice cream.

The year before that, I celebrated the day in Minneapolis, where there was also a parade and dinner, and I brought along my son to show him what 17. mai in the U.S. was all about.

It is always a great pleasure to see how much effort Americans of Norwegian heritage put into their 17. mai events. Major parades are organized in places like Seattle, Houston, Miami, and in several cities the Midwest. And probably elsewhere as well.

By the way, did you know that Seattle hosts the largest 17. mai parade outside of Norway?

I send my greetings to all of you! And I welcome suggestions on where to go next year.

“Y” 17. mai Is More Than a National Day

Celebrants in Norwegian national costumes (bunad) in Chicago for 17.mai 2015

Few countries can display a more genuinely enthusiastic celebration of a national holiday than Norway can. What is it about Norwegians and their relationship to their Constitution Day? “Y” this emphatic joy and national pride?

Sindre Finnes, Juliana Baffoe, Amb. Aas and PM Solberg at a 17.mai reception in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Ragnar Thoresen)

The most obvious explanation is perhaps that this particular date has come to symbolize the freedom and democratic rights that we all cherish. It provides us with an annual reminder of how important it is to preserve what has been achieved.

During the Nazi occupation of Norway from 1940–45, any commemoration of the day was strictly prohibited. No wonder, then, that after the German army in Norway surrendered on May 8, 1945, the celebrations took on completely new proportions. The joyful celebrations since then have always included a tribute to those who fought for our freedom – during WWII and after.

Unlike in many other countries, there is no military element in the celebration of the national day.

“Y” Children’s Parades

The celebration is first and foremost a children’s day. The first children’s parade took place in 1864, upon the initiative of the writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. It was introduced as an addition to the more formal parade of dignitaries and other citizens.

Today, the children’s parade dominate the celebrations all over Norway. The parade in Oslo includes children from around 100 schools. To the accompanying music of schoolchildren’s marching bands, they pass in front of the Royal Palace, where the Royal Family stands on the main balcony to wave to the cheering crowd.

Here is a link to the live coverage of last year’s celebrations in Oslo. (The parade starts around 9 minutes into the clip.)

As we say in Norway, Hipp Hipp Hurra! Gratulerer med dagen! Happy birthday Norway!

– K.R.A.

During the singing of the Norwegian national anthem at the Ambassador’s residence, May 14, 2016. (Photo: Ragnar Thoresen)

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