Brooklyn revs up for Syttende Mai

Brooklyn's Annual Constitution Day Parade

Photo: Ester Hall
The Sons of Norway Brooklyn Lodge celebrates Syttende Mai in 2014.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Brooklyn is revving up for its annual Norwegian Constitution Day Parade, to be held on Sunday, May 17. One interesting change that has occurred at Brooklyn’s parade is that an increasing number of spectators and participants come from Norway to celebrate here. As the parade’s popularity grows and changes, the committee continues to fine-tune the parade and activities surrounding it, through the efforts of over 100 volunteers. Celebrations hit the road in April and accelerate until the main event.

The first activity occurred on Sunday, April 12, at The Salty Dog. This is the committee’s newest event, a fundraiser to keep the parade running.

The second event has been a tradition since the parade’s inception: the Church Rally. This year will be especially meaningful, as the parade’s theme is “Celebrating 1,000 Years of Christianity.” The rally will be held on Saturday, May 2, at the Norwegian Christian Home, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The guest speaker is Doug Thuen from Sparta Evangelical Free Church, New Jersey. (While you are at the Home, why not take the opportunity to see the murals outside the building on the Ovington Avenue side, “Generations”? They were painted by students from McKinley JHS in partnership with 20/20 Visions for Schools and featured in the June 13, 2014, issue of NAW.)

Besides events, the committee is also responsible for designing two parade mementos each year: a pin that encapsulates the theme and a journal. This year’s pin design is very elegant; a golden cross between two axes on a crimson background, the shield of the Christian church of Norway, which was founded under King Olaf during the 1030s.

The journal does more than raise funds through advertising. It has meaty content: an essay about the theme, messages from dignitaries, the parade line-up, the participants, and the two essay contest winners from the Scandinavian East Coast Museum’s annual contest. (The SECM coordinates their theme with that of the parades.) Pins can be purchased and journals will be distributed on the day of the parade.

The parade is organized into sections by the following groups: Churches, Sons of Norway Lodges, and Civic Groups. Each year, the order alternates, so each group marches first every three years. Outstanding marching bands energize spectators and marchers alike. The committee judges and awards prizes for the best marching group, as well as for floats. The latter tradition truly enhances this event. The creativity and effort put into each float always astounds. The parade kicks off at 1:30 p.m. It runs along Third Avenue, turns onto Bay Ridge Avenue until it reaches Fifth Avenue, and the finish line and grandstand are Leif Ericsson Park.

Steering this year’s parade to the finish line is Chair Barbara Berntsen. Her message was inspired by a passage from Proverbs, to rev up the marchers and volunteers who make this parade a reality. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. So as we walk down 3rd Avenue let us keep our paths straight and well organized, let us think of how we have given of ourselves, and how we have made this journey through our faith and our love of Norway. Proverbs 3:5-6.” The chair is correct in her assessment, as the committee does not wait to put their pedal to the metal, but have been planning for over a year working for countless hours.

The parade is one of Bay Ridge’s many community events, its oldest continuous one. It is a time to gather and socialize, share, and welcome visitors, whether from New Jersey or Norway. As Berntsen says, “It is a day when everyone can ‘be Norwegian.’”

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.