Syttende Mai, special day for Norwegian-Americans
By Sam Johnson
Beginning this weekend and
running through Tuesday, in North Dakota, Minnesota and across this great land
of ours where Americans of Norwegian heritage live together and fraternize, lefse, rosettes, krumkake, blotkake,
rommegrot, fattigmand, kranse kake, and other Norwegian goodies will be
consumed with great relish and much celebration.
The occasion is
a special one for Norwegians and Americans of Norwegian descent, for Tuesday is
"Syttende Mai" (17th of
observance of "Syttende Mai"
is frequently compared to our "Fourth of July" as a celebration of
independence, it actually commemorates the anniversary date of Norway's
Constitution, which was adopted on May 17th in 1814.
Having been a
Danish possession for four centuries, Norway was handed over to Sweden
following a military defeat of the Danes by Sweden in 1813.
strenuously objected to the arrangement in which they had no voice, and on
April 10, 1814 they elected by popular vote a National Assembly of 112
officials, merchants, and farmers to meet at Eidsvold, Norway outside
Christiania (now Oslo) to draft a constitution inspired by the American
Declaration of Independence and the French Constitution.
representative described the assembly:
"Here was to be
seen a selection of men from all parts of the realm, of all ranks and dialects,
men from court circles as well as landowners, who came together in no set order
for the sacred purpose of laying the foundations for the rebirth of the
Six weeks later
on May 17th, the National Assembly completed its work on the Norwegian
Constitution, and on the same day closed its proceedings by electing Prince
Christian Frederik as King of Norway and declaring Norway a "free,
independent kingdom, united with Sweden."
Karl Johan, accepted the Norwegian Constitution of May 17, 1814 as the basis
for a political marriage of convenience with Norway. He had several reasons for
One of these
reasons was that he hoped the new union might be strong enough to play a role
in French politics because Napoleon Bonaparte had abdicated the throne just a
month earlier on April 18.
was that he dreaded the prospect of a winter war with Norway, which seemed
imminent should he not recognize their document.
accepted the Norwegian Constitution as an appeasing gesture, though he clearly
intended to take back many concessions after he was crowned monarch of the dual
kingdom in 1818.
In fact, King
Karl Johan deliberately began trying to restrict the constitutional powers of
the Storting (Norwegian parliament),
and went so far as to extend his royal prerogatives in an attempt to bind
Norway closer to Sweden.
However, the Storting defended what had been won in 1814, and well into the
1820's, the common rallying cry "Guard the Constitution" was heard at
national day processions.
At best, Karl
Johan was able to maintain a constitutional monarchy.
By 1830, Karl
Johan gave up the idea of revising the Norwegian Constitution, as did his
successors, and "Syttende Mai"
celebrations became genuine festivities that included a solemn procession of
elders as well as a joyous children's parade signifying hope for the future --
a tradition that continues to be a special part of "Syttende Mai" celebrations in Norway today.
In fact, one of
the striking things about the Norwegian national day of celebration, is the
absence of military demonstrations.
"Syttende Mai" is marked by children's parades in each community, and
features a grand children's parade in Oslo where over 100 schools and 100,000
people take part.
their national costumes (bunads),
young people wave flags, sing songs, and march along with school bands, down Karl Johan's Gata (the main street in
Oslo) past the Royal Palace where the Royal Family greets and waves to the
youngsters. The event is now broadcast on national TV for the entire nation to
Norway's union with Sweden continued for nearly another century, the Norwegian
people kept up the pressure for separation and true independence.
1905 with the support of virtually the entire Norwegian populace, the Storting officially dissolved Norway's
union with Sweden, and Sweden was forced to recognize Norway's complete
To this day,
the exuberance of "Syttende
Mai" celebrations are evident not only in Norway, but also in Canada,
and the United States where more than 4.5 million Americans trace their
ancestry to Norway.
Norwegian heritage mark this special day in much they same way as they do in
Norway -- with music, flag waving, lots of good foods and treats, and singing
the national anthem "Ja, vi elsker dette landet"
(Yes, We Love This Land) with lyrics by Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson :
we love this country,
it rises forth,
weathered, above the sea,
thousands of homes and families.
love it and think
our fathers and mothers
the saga nights that sends
to our earth,
the saga nights that sends dreams to our earth."
Gratulerer med dagen! Happy Syttende
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