Norway to America: Celebrating a century of Bygdelagenes Fellesraad
Kari L. Knudsen
I was one of the over 500 people from all across the U.S., Canada, and Norway who attended the Norway to America: Memories and Dreams conference from May 5 to 8, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. This celebration of Bygdelagenes Fellesraad’s centennial was held at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center. It had been in the planning for two years.
The festive tone of the celebration was created by colorful bygdelag banners, national costumes called bunader, flags, Norwegian music, and dancing. Twenty-five speakers from Norway, Canada, and America spoke on the themes of Norwegian-ness past, present, and future; twenty-first century Norwegian family history; and the celebration of the centennial.
The highlights for many were the festive activities on Saturday, which included a luncheon honoring direct descendants of bygdelag charter members. Attendees ranged in age from six weeks to ninety-nine years of age. The evening included a banquet with speaker John Tunheim, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, plus a colorful bunad parade. The Norwegian Day Camp for young people included folk dance lessons, singing, art projects, Norwegian history, and even a visit from a ventriloquist!
In addition to the centennial celebration, the Norwegian Memorial Church of South Minneapolis, called Mindekirken, welcomed visitors to their Norwegian and English Sunday services. Next door to Mindekirken is Norway House, a national educational center where many visitors enjoyed seeing the educational rooms, gallery, coffee shop, and gift shop.
In 1899 early Norwegian immigrants who had a strong desire to socialize with people from their home districts of bygd in Norway began the formation of bygdelag. Today there are 28 national bygdelag that remain active. They host annual conventions (called stevner) that focus on genealogy research and Norwegian heritage. They also host tours to their home area in Norway and have genealogists available to help members with their family roots.
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