17 ways to celebrate!
Syttende Mai for the young (and the young at heart)
Barneblad: A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids
Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall
Norwegian flags are the first order of the day on Syttende Mai. Check online if you don’t have a local flag supplier. If you are making your own, be careful to get the colors right: flag etiquette matters on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is important to learn this early on.
Special Syttende Mai ribbons, sløyfe, are a requirement in Norway on May 17. They are available in Scandinavian specialty stores abroad, but if you don’t have one near you, don’t despair: red, white, and blue ribbon is available everywhere, and you can check our Syttende Mai issue from 2016 online for easy instructions.
#3 Fun facts & history
While May 17 is a day of fun, it’s also a great day for learning. A few facts can spark your kids’ interest: where is Norway on a map, what is the capital city called, how do you count from 1 to 5? One Norwegian phrase that everyone needs to know is, “Hipp, hipp, hurra for Syttende Mai!”
#4 Bunads & costumes
In Norway, nearly all children have their own traditional folk costumes. But bunad or not, you can still dress your kids up for Syttende Mai. This may be as simple as putting on a Norwegian sweater, a Viking helmet, or something red, white, and blue.
#5 Hot dogs
Pølser, Norwegian hot dogs, are the food of choice on Syttende Mai in Norway, and they are available just about anywhere. To make them more ekte norsk, genuinely Norwegian, try serving them with lefse. You can make your own or order lefse from a Scandinavian specialty store—vær så god!
#6 Ice cream
The 17th of May is called “Children’s Day,” and not in the least because of ice cream, ice cream, and more ice cream! It’s the day when kids can eat as much of it as they want, a most delicious tradition for both young and old alike.
Balloons are always festive, and the choice of colors is an obvious one. Blow them up together, or if you are throwing a party, a balloon artist can add more fun. Organize a balloon drop to make a super splash from the sky with the red, white, and blue! But if you have helium balloons outside, be sure to hold on tight to them—escaped balloons can harm wild animals.
#8 Cakes & cookies
Holiday cakes and cookies are a must, and nothing is better than the official Syttende Mai cake, Kvæfjordkake, the World’s Best Cake. Flag cakes are also crowd-pleasers, and nothing is more festive than a kransekake adorned with Norwegian flags. Check out our A Taste of Norway cookbook or pull out your favorite recipes and get creative—yum, yum, yum!
#9 Drums, marching & musical instruments
Music is the May 17 order of the day, as marching bands parade through the streets of Norway. In America, we bring out full-blown marching bands in our larger Scandinavian American communities. Get your kids’ instruments out! For those who don’t play an instrument, drumming—on whatever you can find—is great way to join in on the fun.
The 17th of May is a day for singing, and many songs have been written for the occasion: pull out your Norwegian songbook or check out YouTube as a start. Folk songs are fun and easy to learn, or it may be time to introduce everyone to the Norwegian national anthem, “Ja vi elsker dette landet.”
#11 Find the red, white, and blue
Following the theme of the red-white-and-blue, little ones can burn off some energyand have fun looking for these colors, indoors or outdoors: the goal is to simply identify as many red, white, or blue objects as possible. You may want to scatter a few small things here and there: Norwegian toothpick flags work great for setting up your Syttende Mai scavenger hunt.
As weather permits, kids want to be outdoors on the big day, and as custom dictates, an old-fashioned sekkeløp, or sack race, is in order. You can ask your local grocer to save some burlap potato sacks for you, but these days heavy-duty garbage bags will work just as well. Line up the kids in a row in their sacks and send them off on a mad hop to the finish line.
Norway is proud of its royal family, and for Syttende Mai, you may want to set up a contest for your own royal court. Encourage youth to write an essay about their Norwegian heritage or the importance of international exchange. Ribbon and sashes and crowns will make the winners feel special and no doubt add color to your celebration.
The 17th of May is a day for speeches in Norway for old and young alike. A speech need not be long or elaborate, but it’s a great opportunity to gain poise and self-confidence. Encourage your child to put some of the new facts they’ve learned together in a paragraph or two and present them at school or at home with the family. For older children, the speeches of King Harald V of Norway can provide fantastic inspiration.
#15 Coloring, drawing, & painting
Coloring is a fun and easy activity: the project may be as simple as coloring the Norwegian flag, or finding a rosemaling coloring template online to teach your kids about Norway’s traditional folk art. Draw a picture around a Norwegian topic that you’ve just discussed or some photos you’ve looked at together: it’s a beautiful way to learn something new.
Get in touch with your heritage with a book. For young kids, you might choose a picture book about Norway or a fairy tale by Asbjørnsen and Moe. For older kids, there are colorful historical novels. Check your local bookstore, Scandinavian shop, or our book reviews for ideas.
Above all, Syttende Mai is day for families. After a party or parade, plan a family dinner with a Norwegian theme. Be sure to choose foods that everyone will like for a positive introduction to Norwegian cuisine. Desserts are always a popular choice! Set the table with red, white, and blue flowers and decorations, and of course, table flags and ribbons are a must for this most special of Norwegian occasions.
This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.