Syttende Mai is back in the Big Apple
Nobody does it better …
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
Well, let’s face it: some things are just a little bit bigger and better in New York City, or at very least, New Yorkers do things their own way, with great style and flair. And after two years of pandemic lockdowns, there’s nothing that is going to stop them from pulling out all the stops for Norwegian Constitution Day.
Syttende Mai celebrations of Syttende Mai are nothing new in the Norwegian colony in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, with a history that goes back some 133 years. There are reports of a cannon having been shot off on May 17, 1889, followed by music, dancing, and fireworks, and it is reported that the Swedes even joined the festivities. Over the years, the celebrations have moved to various parts of the city, but with its strong anchoring to the Norwegian immigration in NYC, Brooklyn remains an epicenter of 17th of May celebrations.
Prelude party at Nansen Lodge
The 17th of May in New York City is a big event, and the festivities start early. Already on May 13, the Sons of Norway Nansen Lodge on Staten Island at 3441 Victory Blvd. will start celebrating with a dinner at 7 p.m. The evening will include a smørgåsbord of Scandinavian delights, a cash bar, a dessert table, raffles, live entertainment, and more. All ages are welcome, but reservations are a must for this sellout event. Contact Ruth Kornbrekke at Longship50@aol.com for more information and to reserve your space.
It’s been said that everyone loves a parade, and the New Yorkers are certainly no exception. You only have to think of big blowout events like the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to know that this is an area where the Big Apple leads the way.
So, in this spirit, the 17th of May Parade Committee – Brooklyn is bringing back their annual parade on May 15, starting at 1 p.m. in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn’s historical Norwegian neighborhood.
On their website, the group clearly defines their mission:
“The purpose of the Norwegian-American 17th of May Committee of Greater New York, Inc., shall be to encourage and develop a deep appreciation of the ideals of independence and freedom that the 17th of May, Constitution Day of Norway, embodies and to keep alive the cultural heritage of Norway. Rain or shine, on the 17th of May of each year, or the Sunday closest to this date (excluding Mother’s Day), the committee shall make arrangements for and sponsor a parade.”
This year’s parade will start off at 80th Street and Third Avenue, turn right at Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street) and continue up to Fifth Avenue, making a left on Fifth. It then will continue to 67th Street, marching along the park up to the reviewing stand between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
The group held a successful fundraiser for the parade on April 24 with food, entertainment, and raffles, and they are selling official parade pins and T-shirts to raise money. For many, they are collector’s items and fun to own, even if you’re not a New Yorker. Visit 17thofmayparadecommittee-brooklyn.org for more details about the parade and how to order this year’s 17th of May merchandise.
Norwegian Seamen’s Church
In 1992, the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in New York moved from its original location in Brooklyn to its present location at 317 East 52nd Street in Midtown Manhattan, and it has been a hub of Norwegian activity in the city ever since.
There is always something going on at the Seamen’s Church, and on the weekend leading up to May 17, .the boutique will be open between noon and 4 p.m. for all your Syttende Mai shopping needs. As on all Saturdays, traditional risengrynsgrøt will be served between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The Sunday morning service the following day at 11 a.m., is followed by coffee and pastries, as parishioners and guests get the opportunity to join together in fellowship.
The big celebration will kick off on May 17, starting at 1 p.m., when the café will open. This year, the Seamen’s Church will host the block party of all block parties when it comes to the Norwegian-American community. Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., the entire block on 52nd Street between First and Second avenues will be closed off to traffic, and the party will begin. The Norwegian flag will be hoisted up the flagpole, and there will be speeches, singing, games, and other entertainment.
This year, there will be extra special excitement when legendary Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann holds the keynote speech. This will be followed by children’s games and activities, a 17th of May parade, a sing-along with the Sjømannskirkens choir, and a special church service. And, of course, there will be plenty of pølse, cake and cookies, ice cream, and Norwegian soda.
Norway will also be represented by Aksel Kolstad, a pianist, composer, and “unusual comedian,” who will offer up a truly unique Norwegian cultural experience. Time magazine has called Kolstad “the Quentin Tarantino of classical music,” and he has been dubbed by the press as the “Franz Liszt of our times” and “the Norwegian Victor Borge.” It will be a performance to remember. You can learn more about Aksel Kolstad and listen to performance clips at akselkolstad.com.
Everyone is welcome to come and celebrate the big day at the Seamen’s Church, and there are opportunities to volunteer and join the marching band for the day. Check out this year’s 17th of may program at sjomannskirken.no/kirke/new-york/kalender/norges-nasjonaldag.
And then for those who really want to do it up brown at the end of the 17th of May week, on May 19, the American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) is hosting its 2022 Spring Gala at the Metropolitan Club at One East 60th Street in New York City. While not an official 17th of May activity per se, representatives of the New York Norwegian community will be out in full force in the full spirit of Syttende Mai.
This year’s celebration will honor Lena Biörck Kaplan, recipient of this year’s ASF Niels Poulsen Award, and James Stewart Polshek, recipient of this year’s ASF Cultural Award. All proceeds from the gala will benefit ASF’s initiatives to promote cultural and education exchange between the United States and the Nordic countries.
This elegant black-tie event will begin with cocktails at 7 p.m., followed by dinner and dancing at 8 p.m. For more information, visit amscan.org/special-events/spring-gala-2022.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.