Celebrate Syttende Mai with Vesterheim Museum

Julia Schwarz, of Decorah, enjoys Vesterheim's Syttende Mai parade. Photo courtesy of Vesterheim Museum.

DECORAH, Iowa — Celebrate Syttende Mai, Norway’s “Constitution Day,” at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, with free museum admission on Saturday, May 16 and Sunday May 17. On Saturday May 16, there will be a children’s parade, Decorah’s Nordic Dancers, activities for all ages, milkshakes from the “Moo Mobile,” and food. Syttende Mai at Vesterheim is sponsored by Jeff and Marilyn Roverud, Decorah, Iowa.

Norwegians traditionally celebrate Syttende Mai with a children’s parade—a crowd of excited children marching through the streets waving flags, singing songs, and bringing good cheer to the day. The Vesterheim children’s parade will begin on May 16 at 10:30 a.m. The route starts on Main Street in Decorah at the Winneshiek County Courthouse, then travels north along Washington Street to Water Street, then west on Water Street to Mill Street.

Decorah’s Nordic Dancers will lead the parade and everyone is invited to march along or cheer from the sidewalks. Norwegian flags will be provided for everyone marching.

Following the parade, there will be a dance on Mill Street near the museum led by the Nordic Dancers, with audience participation, and the Nordic Dancers will sell ice cream shakes from the “Moo Mobile.” Inside the museum there will be special activities for children and tours.

The Dayton House will be open for lunch, serving varme pølse grilled to order in the courtyard, and other favorites.

Also on May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. there will be an opening reception for the visiting exhibition “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920.” The exhibition of photographs of immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island is sponsored by the Eric and Joan Norgaard Charitable Trust, with special funding from the Alliant Energy Foundation for family-oriented activities.

Syttende Mai is a great time to see an exhibition of student projects from the museum’s Featherlite Pioneer Immersion Program, on view May 16 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and May 17 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the Westby-Torgerson Education Center. In case of inclement weather, the parade and Nordic Dancers will be canceled, but all other activities will continue as scheduled.

May 17 “Syttende Mai” is the day Norway ratified its constitution in 1814 at Eidsvoll. On “Constitution Day” Norwegians like to focus on children, who will inherit both the spirit of national freedom and the Norwegian heritage and culture that are at the heart of Syttende Mai. Come and celebrate Syttende Mai!

Vesterheim uses the story of Norwegian Americans to explore aspects of identity and culture common to everyone. The museum cares for over 24,000 artifacts, among which are some of the most outstanding examples of decorative and folk art to be seen in this country. Founded in 1877, Vesterheim is the oldest and most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group. This national treasure includes a main complex of 16 historic buildings in downtown Decorah and an immigrant farmstead and prairie church just outside the city.

From May 1 through Oct. 31, Vesterheim is open daily, 9 a.m. through 5 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays.  From Nov. 1 – April 30, Vesterheim is open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., with hours extended until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays and is closed Monday.  For more information on the museum’s exhibits, activities, and membership opportunities, consult Vesterheim’s website at vesterheim.org, call (563) 382-9681, or write to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 523 W. Water St., P.O. Box 379, Decorah, IA, 52101-0379.

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