Mindekirken’s Syttende Mai

Celebrating democracy, families, and children

Mindekirken

Children play a big part in Mindekirken’s festive church service as part of the 17th of May celebration.

Leslee Lane Hoyum
Rockford, Minn.

Syttende Mai is the grandest holiday in Norway. It’s a joyful celebration of democracy, family, and children. Festivities focus on family-friendly activities and spending time together, walking in parades, eating, drinking, and wearing colorful Norwegian national costumes.

On Sunday, May 19, Mindekirken will continue to follow these traditions.  Mindekirken takes pride in following today’s Norwegian Syttende Mai traditions, and the revelry never ends. Built by Norwegian immigrants on what was once Native American land, which later became a Scandinavian neighborhood and now celebrates Native Americans, Somalis, and Central and South Americans.

On Norway Block, Mindekirken and Norway House keep Scandinavian legacies. Norway’s Constitution Day is, indeed, all about democracy, families, and children, and everyone is welcome at Mindekirken to celebrate all day.

At 10:30 a.m., a musical prelude welcomes visitors to the festival worship service. As the service winds down, children get excited—there will be a folketog (people’s parade) in which to march, and each child will  have a flag to wave. Led by the Mindekirken band, the parade winds its way through Mindekirken’s neighborhood to the cheers and waves of all the onlookers. Hundreds bring the area to life clad in colorful national costumes, Norwegian sweaters or far-out Syttende Mai costumes.

Do the festivities end there? Absolutely not! Eating and playing are on the agenda. Everybody is up for hot dogs, chips, sodas, and ice cream, typical Norwegian fare these days, and just a $5 donation for adults. There is always a great variety of games and activities in which one may participate, and they change from year to year. You may just find Viking games, potato sack races, dancing, rock or face painting, runic symbol name tag creation, a Norwegian vocabulary quiz, and more. It’s a surprise from year to year—and without disappointment. Plus, a gift bag awaits each child.

Mindekirken's Syttende Mai

There is nothing better than ice cream on a warm and sunny day.

Mindekirken's Syttende Mai

All ages love the folketog, and children get their own flags.

There’s more. Throughout the afternoon you will be entertained by children from Mindekirken’s Norskeklubben and Kari’s Barnehage, folk dancing by the Per Gynt Dancers of Sons of Norway Synnove-Nordkap Lodge, and activities provided by Concordia Language Villages and Daughters of Norway Pauline Fjelde #51. You also will have an opportunity to folk dance, visit information booths, listen to never-ending music, check out the photo booth, and visit Norway House’s Galleri and Also Ingebretsen’s.

But this celebration of Norwegian national pride has not always been this jubilant. For nearly 400 years, Norwegians were under Danish rule. Danish King Frederik VI was forced to support Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon lost. Under the January 1814 Treaty of Kiel, Denmark was mandated to cede Norway to the king of Sweden. Norway refused to accept the treaty and declared independence.

An assembly gathered at Eidsvoll, Norway, and on May 17, 1814, a Norwegian Constitution was signed. Norway’s constitution is the second oldest working national constitution in the world, after the U.S. Constitution.

Norway’s structure, however, called for a constitutional monarchy. In July 1814, Sweden attacked Norway. After a brief 14-day war, Swedish King Charles XIV John, also known as Karl Johan, accepted the Norwegian Constitution. The compromise was that Norway and Sweden would have a common king and Norway would manage its own national affairs.

In 1905, the Norwegian Parliament drafted a resolution to withdraw from its union with Sweden, which would give Norway consular services with a presence throughout the world. Eventually, the Swedish King Oskar I accepted the resolution, and Norway sought its first independent monarch since 1387.

Norway had a rough start after its independence. It lacked its own government institutions, industrial entrepreneurs, and domestic capital. But because it had huge stocks of natural resources and worked well with the United Kingdom and the monarchy of Sweden, Norway flourished, even surviving international recessions.

It was always in the Norwegian soul to celebrate its independence, but the Swedish king made it illegal. Nonetheless, Norwegians still held short celebratory speeches and protests against the king’s wishes each May 17. Norway’s renowned poet Henrik Wergeland broke through in 1833 with a resounding public address, which is now considered the beginning of Constitution Day traditions. Then, in the 1870s, author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson launched the first children’s parade in Oslo, a tradition that endures.

Please join Mindekirken on May 19 to celebrate Syttende Mai’s joyous day of celebration. Don’t forget your camera—and your family. Visit our website at mindekirken.org, or to receive the online newsletter, call the church office at (612) 874-0716.

Photos courtesy of Leslee Lane Hoyum and Mindekirken

Celebrating democracy, families, and children

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Leslee Lane Hoyum

Born and raised in Minnesota, Leslee Lane Hoyum attended the University of Minnesota and University of Oslo. Leslee is or has been involved with almost every Norwegian-American organization, including Sons of Norway, Sons of Norway Foundation, Ski For Light, NAHA, Leif Eriksson International Festival and Mindekirken. Leslee is a co-founder of Lakselaget and a founding member of Norway House, and has been decorated by His Majesty King Harald with the St. Olav Medal.