Hipp hipp hurra for Syttende Mai across the land!
From north to south, east to west, everyone and everything for Norway!
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
Under sunny skies and with the scent of springtime flowers in the air, Seattle went all out to celebrate Norwegian Constitution Day 2023. From a gala luncheon at the National Nordic Museum to a two-hour parade through the streets of the city’s historic Ballard neighborhood, this celebration seemed to have it all, complete with no less than 17 marching bands—hipp hipp hurra!
And then there were flags and bunads, shiny red Corvettes and classic cars, Viking boat floats, and would-be Vikings in their helmets, kids on unicycles, clowns, and dozens of other parade entries. The Sons of Norway Leif Erikson Lodge was open to the public for the day, and the Nordic musical lineup second to none at Bergen Place Park (named for Seattle’s sister city in Bergen, Norway) brought out the crowds.
A highlight of the day took place at Bergen Place Park with the reading of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s official proclamation declaring May 17, 2023, as Norwegian Constitution Day. The proclamation stressed the contributions that Norwegian Americans have made to the area’s economy and culture and how they enrich the multicultural tapestry of the City of Seattle and the region at large.
The 17th of May celebration in Seattle is truly a big deal as the largest celebration outside of Norway, at times reported to be the third-largest in the world. Each year, a volunteer committee comes together to plan the big party, which over the years has seen up to 20,000 attendees. This year, the streets were once again filled with happy onlookers—now, that is something to be proud of!
The task of putting this all together is no small undertaking, especially given the recent economic downturn and cuts made to the Seattle Police Department. Fundraising has become more difficult for all non-profit organizations, and in the case of 17th of May Seattle, more volunteers had to be recruited to ensure the parade would run smoothly and safely. The Norwegian-American community stepped up to the plate, and the parade ran on schedule. There were no problems with crowd management, even though the parade is reported to have been the most attended community parade in Seattle so far this year.
For one family, this year’s 17th of May celebration was extra special: It was the first time that they gathered—all 32 of them—dressed in authentic Norwegian bunads.
I talked to the family matriarch, Kay Fisher Meyers, about this amazing show of Norwegian pride and how it all came to be.
Kay explained that she has always felt a strong connection to her Norwegian heritage, which can be traced back to Åndalsnes in the Møre og Romsdal region. Both her grandmothers emigrated from Norway as young women. Over the years, the family has been in touch with relatives in the old country. Kay is very proud to wear a bunad from one of her grandmothers and, with time, she realized that the rest of the family should also have their own bunads, too.
Getting all this together took some effort with a large family. There were Kay’s two brothers, their wives, and 17 nieces and nephews to be outfitted. Fortunately, their relatives in Åndalsnes were willing to help. They ordered and shipped the bunads and carried the silver jewelry in their hand baggage on a trip to Seattle. First came the costumes for the women last year, and then this year, the men got their bunads. Traditional-style children’s clothes in various sizes were also sent over.
When the big day came, everyone gathered at Kay’s house before boarding a party bus to Ballard, where they enjoyed dinner at Ray’s, a beloved waterfront restaurant. Some had to be excused from work to come along.
Looking back on the day, Kay’s niece Lily Isaacson said: “I felt so celebrated to be part of something important. It feels meaningful to see my boys dressed up in costumes like that, knowing that our relatives are doing the same thing in Norway. It’s just very sweet and fun.”
For more information on the 17th of May Seattle and to see more photos, visit 17thofMay.org.
This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.