Today is the Norwegian National Day, better known as syttende Mai, marks the day Norway’s Constitution was signed in 1814, in effect declaring the country and independent kingdom.
After many historical twists and turns, Norwegians have emerged as arguably the Nordics’ best at throwing a nationwide party.
For a long time, The Constitution Day was celebrated on the 4th of November
Just a month following 17th of May 1814, Norway was forced into a union with Sweden, which would last for almost a century. This meant that some parts of the constitution had to be changed, including a clause that would hinder Norway’s exit from the union. The new national day became November 4th. Naturally, all of this made the business of celebrating Norwegian independence all the more complicated.
Not until early twentieth century, after parting ways with big brother Sweden in 1905, would Norway resume its celebrations on 17th of May.
For the first decades, only boys were allowed to participate in the children’s parade
Perhaps not a “fun fact”, but notable nevertheless in the history of Nordic gender equality, is that when the first children’s parades were introduced in 1869 in Oslo as part of the national celebrations, only boys were included. Twenty years later, in 1889, girls were first allowed to participate in what is now one of the most iconic staples of 17. Mai.
The first recorded 17. Mai celebrations were in… Denmark
The former interim king of Norway, Christian Fredrik, was sent into an internal exile to Denmark in 1815 to serve as a General Governor of Fyn. Danes were fond of what he had accomplished in Norway (he would indeed one day serve as the king of Denmark), which gave Christian Fredrik cause to arrange festivities for the 17. Mai in 1815. These were the first documented celebrations of the Norwegian Constitution Day.
Norway, which now was in a union with Sweden, would have muted celebrations for the first decades of the 19th century.
Contrary to popular belief, the song that Norwegians sing during the celebrations, “Ja, vi elsker”, is actually not the national song of Norway. It was first performed in 1864 to mark the 50-year celebrations of 17. Mai.
The Norwegian culture was on display across the Twin Cities on May 20, as churches and communities celebrated Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day. (“Syttende Mai” translated means May 17 in Norwegian.) In Minnesota, the holiday is often commemorated on the Sunday closest to that date. Each year, one of the biggest celebrations takes place at Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis.
Every May 17th Norwegians worldwide celebrate Norway’s independence with a day similar to our 4th of July – only theirs is called Syttende Mai (the 17th of May). George “Ole” Olson stopped by the studio to talk about this special Norwegian holiday. Ole gave us a history lesson on the complicated relationship between Norway and Sweden and told us about the events related to the day.
The Sons of of Norway Bemidji Lodge 500 will host this year’s Syttende Mai event tomorrow, May 17th at the Norwegian Village within the Concordia Language Villages north of Bemidji. Everyone is welcome to attend the event, enjoy the parade, eat Norwegian food and enjoy music by Eric Bergeson. That event starts at 5pm with a social hour that will be followed by the parade, banquet and entertainment.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the history surrounding the Norwegians since there’s plenty in the state of Minnesota, including myself. You betcha!