You can’t step into the same parade twice
Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly
Can I tell you a secret? I don’t really like parades.
Oh, once upon a time I dressed in my Norwegian costume and held my matching doll and was so proud to march in the 17th of May parade through Ballard.
That glow wore off as I got a little older and realized it was no particular honor to be in a neighborhood parade the way I was (it would be many, many more years before I heard of a “children’s parade”), and of course it turned to bitter embarrassment as I entered my cynical teens. I lived in fear of anyone seeing those photos.
So by the time I visited New Orleans in my early 20s for Mardi Gras, I was fairly neutral on parades. They’re all the same, right? Marching bands, floats, cotton candy. Like most people, I thought, What is there not to like about a parade? At worst they’re boring. And if you get bored, you can always leave.
Enter Mardi Gras. Parades there go on for hours at a time, and in the week leading up to Mardi Gras there is at least one per day, if not more. My friend and I had found a sweet spot to watch a parade—the median of a street it would go up and down. We’d see it coming and going.
But things went south quickly. My friend started to feel ill, and we realized we hadn’t eaten much, so we decided to leave. But we were trapped. There was plenty of space between floats for us to get across the street, but it was patrolled by police officers who would absolutely not let us do any such thing.
We tried a lot before accepting our fate—three hours of watching a parade we no longer had any interest in, hungry (we were broke), being pelted with beads (fun fact: you don’t have to show any skin to get beads at Mardi Gras).
After that I never wanted to see another parade in my life.
Why am I telling you this? Why would I metaphorically rain on your literal parade? And right before Syttende Mai!
This is my third year as editor of this newspaper, which means it will also be my third year attending Seattle’s 17th of May parade as an adult. And do you know what else? I’m looking forward to it.
The parade is nothing like those over-the-top Mardi Gras parades, though it does usually have some impressive floats and marching bands and police motorcycle formations and pirates (it’s a Seattle thing).
I’m not sure how closely it resembles the parade of my youth either, but to me it retains a small-town parade feel, with lots of marchers, lots of people in cars, and (because apparently this is also a thing in Seattle now) about a million kids on unicycles.
Certainly, the audience is nothing like either of those extremes either. Though my new tradition is to watch from one of the bars along the parade route, the crowd is not unruly like at Mardi Gras. Neither is it all Norwegians. Ballard has changed since its parade became a yearly event in 1974, a fact that causes much weeping and lamentation among Seattle Norwegians. No longer the sleepy fishing town, it’s now a neighborhood popular for its nightlife, filled to the brim (or beyond!) with new residents.
But one of the things I like about the parade is that on that day, all those new folks are honorary Norwegians. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to at the parade who had no idea about the yearly tradition before stumbling upon it, who are pleased to try some pølse med lompe and wave flags with the rest of us.
Parades are like rivers. In one sense they’re all the same—floats, bands, etc.—but in another sense no two are alike. You can’t step into the same river twice, because it has different water and because you have changed. The parade entries change, and so does the audience.
Change. And also tradition.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope you enjoy your (literal or metaphorical) parade this Syttende Mai.
And speaking of change, welcome to the first issue of The Norwegian American!
From now on we’ll be bringing you even more content on this nice new paper (at least I hope it’s nice—as this is the first time using it, I haven’t seen it yet!) every other week. One of our new sections, Norsk Språk, debuts this week, but the rest was preempted by Syttende Mai content and will roll out in the next issue.
This change has been many months in the making, but its timing is no coincidence. Syttende Mai is about new beginnings, so for us it is the perfect day to symbolize our new start.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.