Seattle celebrates Syttende Mai

To see the Seattle Times slideshow of May 17th, click here.

Jennifer Roach hasn’t a drop of Norwegian blood in her, but on Sunday she donned a wool costume and whirled for an hour in the hot sun to Scandinavian folk tunes played Victrola-like through speakers on a Ballard street corner.

Roach’s people hail from Britain, but that hardly matters. Being Norwegian in Seattle, she said, is more a matter of choice than blood.

“The Sons of Norway is open to everyone,” Roach, 46, said as she stood in the shade during a dancing break. “At least half the people have no connection to Norway.”

None, that is, except the desire to embrace all things Norwegian. And on Sunday they did, taking to the streets to commemorate the 17th of May, a Norwegian holiday that marks the day in 1814 when Norway’s constitution was signed.

The holiday has been celebrated for 120 years in Ballard with a parade that organizers say is the largest such event outside of Norway. It’s so big, in fact, that Norwegians cross oceans to be there.

Tor Arild Halvorsen was among a group of about 40 from Hellvik, Norway, who sang their way through Ballard streets Sunday afternoon, stopping to join ruddy-faced sea captains, crafters and retirees at a sold-out luncheon of sockeye salmon and almond cake at the Leif Erikson Hall.

“Everybody has cousins in America,” said Halvorsen, who sings with the Hellvik Mannskor chorus. “We knew there are a lot of Norwegians here. We wanted to see how big it is.”

Five blocks big. At least that’s the amount of asphalt occupied by about 100 “units” — marching bands, folk singers, unicyclists, and community groups — as they lined up along Northwest 62nd Street for the parade’s 4 p.m. start.

Sequins flashed on arms finally freed from rain gear, and the impossibly good marching band from Mukilteo’s Olympic View Middle School filled the streets with the sound of Alice Cooper’s anthem, “School’s Out.”

The parade is an important part of the glue that binds the area’s Norwegians, said Roberta Morrow, of Edmonds, a parade organizer and editor for the Daughters of Norway’s national newspaper.

Morrow said immigrants faced a hard life when they came here a century ago. “They formed together initially to learn the language. Now instead of learning English, we learn Norwegian.”

Keeping the culture alive requires conscious effort and traditions that connect people with shared memories, Morrow said.

Regnor Reinholdtsen’s knows more about that than most. For five generations, his family has thrown a Christmas Eve celebration for Norwegians every year in the same Ballard house. This year was his daughter’s turn.

“It helps everyone stay in touch,” he said.

By Susan Kelleher
Source: Seattle Times

The Norwegian American

Published since May 17, 1889 PO Box 30863 Seattle WA 98113 Tel: (206) 784-4617 • Email:

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