The Norse are a patient people, and that can come in handy from time to time.
Nothing demonstrates that quite like Syttende Mai, the celebration of Norwegians around the world that marks the May 17, 1814, signing of Norway’s constitution. And for the past 67 years – until this year’s was canceled this year because of COVID-19 – Stoughton has been the world leader in celebration of Syttende Mai.
While the event that brought about the annual parades and celebrations here ended 500 years of Danish rule, it would be nearly 100 years before the country would win true independence through victory over another neighbor (insert your favorite Ole/Lena joke): Sweden.
Sticking it out through challenging times seems to be a common trait for Norwegians – after all, they’ve thrived in harsh, northern climates for generations, and many still willingly enjoy lutefisk, an air-dried, often salted whitefish that’s soaked for days in lye, of all things. And those are the qualities (lutefisk aside) that endear them to the area’s many other ethnic groups, because after all, we’ve all chosen to live here, too.
Since 1868, Stoughton’s Syttende Mai festivals have been a way to share and spread the area’s proud Norwegian heritage, sparked then by a surge of immigrants seeking work in post-war tobacco houses or Targe Mandt’s wagon works factory. At one point around the turn of the 20th century, Stoughton was one of the most Norwegian cities in America.
Times changed, but the city would return to those roots, reviving Syttende Mai in 1953, and turning it into the annual event that continues to grow and evolve with the times and the community.
That’s all going to change this year, and possibly into the future. But while the large crowds and parades will be gone – at least for now – that doesn’t mean Stoughton can’t still celebrate Syttende Mai together, even while we’re apart for a while.
And maybe there’s nothing more typically Norski-stubborn than having a Syttende Mai issue when there’s no Syttende Mai celebration in Stoughton.
So in that spirit, we look back here on the Syttende Mais of the past and ahead to what new, creative ways people find to celebrate this year – no matter what percentage Norski. (Yes, Ole, even Swedes).
And hopefully next year and ever after, we will be back for the parades, the bunads, the canoe races, the Norwegian Dancers and, above all, the camaraderie.
And possibly even the lutefisk.