Today across Wisconsin, the upper midwest, and the world for that matter, Norwegians are lifting their lingonberries and lutefisk in celebration of their Norwegian heritage.
Syttende Mai (pronounced sittendeh moy) translates simply to May 17th. It was the day the Constitution of Norway was signed in 1814, declaring itself an independent kingdom from Sweden, although they were technically still tied together by their shared monarch.
The date began to be celebrated annually early on, likely by some rebellious kids. But celebrating it was actually banned by King Karl Johan in the 1820s, because it was a little too rebellious and it looked bad. Eventually, through some battling and revolting, Sweden and Norway went their separate ways. And by 1833 or so, Syttende Mai was freely celebrated by Norway’s sons. The annual event is sometimes referred to as Constitution Day or Grunnlovsdagen, but most notably, Syttende Mai.
Stoughton holds Wisconsin’s most infamous Syttende Mai celebration. And gatherings are still held in some communities and churches across the northland. But as generations pass, celebrating the mother country’s tradition of independence is fading away.
Wisconsin, particularly northern and western Wisconsin, were once heavily settled by Norwegians. Clues to the once dense population are everywhere: Hansen, Olsen, Larsen, Andersen, and Norske Nook. Oof da.
Some Sons of Norway chapters remain, including Barron, Eau Claire, and Woodville, Wausau, Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay. You’ll often see these chapters taking part in local parades, which is a big part of celebrating Syttende Mai.
If lutefisk isn’t your thing, don’t panic, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate your Norwegian lineage.
Celebrate your heritage:
- Fly the Norwegian flag – the more, the better
- Learn the patriotic song that Sons of Norway is named after
- Subscribe to Viking Magazine
- Read up on the history of the signing of the Norwegian constitution
- Take a quiz about Norway
- Read facts about Syttende Mai
- Learn some basic Norwegian phrases
- Listen to some Norwegian Folk Music
- Get yourself some garden gnomes, or nisse
- Get involved with your local Sons of Norway chapter
Eat some food:
- Go classic: Eat hot dogs wrapped in lefse and consume as much ice cream and soda as you like.
- Get fancy: Make brunch with cold cuts, cheese, smørbrød and waffles, and serve it with sparkling juice or champagne.
- Make a kransekake or other cake and decorate it with Norwegian flags