The 17th of May goes online

New York, Stoughton, and Seattle adapt programs for the pandemic

Photo: Madison Leiren
Normally, Bergen Place Park in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is filled with people on May 17, but this year, many of them will be watching the Syttende Mai program through their devices.

COURTNEY OLSEN
Editorial Assistant
The Norwegian American

As we prepare to celebrate the second 17th of May of the pandemic, many communities across the country must again modify their usual celebrations to meet coronavirus restrictions. This year, however, with vaccinations underway and some restrictions lifting, many celebrations are incorporating both virtual and in-person elements. Here is a look at some of the adapted celebrations taking place across the United States this year.

New York City

Sjømannskirken i New York (The Seamen’s Church in New York) is one of the centers of celebration for New York’s Norwegian-American community. This year, they are planning a hybrid celebration for the 17th of May. 

The in-person portion of the program begins with a church service at Sjømannskirken on May 16. Due to pandemic restrictions, there will be limited seating available, and those who wish to attend must sign up ahead of time. On the 17th, the store at Sjømannskirken will be open for celebrators to buy pølse, is, brus, and other Norwegian treats. They will also have seating available on their roof for people to order coffee, cakes, and of course, waffles.

Photo: Johannes W. Berg
Pre-pandemic 17th of May celebrations in New York City always included a parade.

“Our digital program will be a collaboration with the Norwegian community in Washington D.C.,” said Christian L. Stahr, music director for Sjømannskirken i New York. “We will have a raising of the flag ceremony with speeches, as well as a church service and an evening concert. There will be music performances by Norwegian and American artists, as well as music from Rockville Brass Band and a virtual choir. The program will have a great variety of music!”

Links for streaming the virtual events will be available on Sjømannskirken’s website, YouTube channel, and Facebook page.

Stoughton, Wis.

In Stoughton, Wis., the 17th of May marks the first festival of the summer for the Dane County area. It’s usually a time to gather together, celebrate, have fun, and support the local businesses and organizations. After an easing of restrictions in Dane County in mid-April, this year’s three-day festival can now be a hybrid program

Attendees can visit the food stands and quilt show in person. They can then participate in a drive-through parade, in which the floats are all parked in an area and cars can drive through them. 

The online piece of the program will include the opening ceremonies with a proclamation from Stoughton’s mayor, a bunad show, and a youth parade, all of which will be recorded. They will also replay Syttende Mai plays from years past (a Stoughton tradition!), as well as a presentation of Hardanger embroidery displays. To get people out and about in the open air, a scavenger hunt has been planned with 13 stops related to Stoughton’s Norwegian heritage around town.

This hybrid program has a lot of benefits. Those who are excited to celebrate in person and those who aren’t comfortable being around large groups of people yet will both be accommodated. 

Photo: Stoughton Chamber of Commerce
James Listug performs on the Hardanger fiddle in Stoughton, Wis.

“There is something for everyone to enjoy,” said Callie LaPoint, events and visitor services manager for the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone has internet access or Facebook accounts. We have a large senior community who aren’t able to go out yet, and with their communities they have streaming capabilities so they can still celebrate.”

After a year without a 17th of May festival because of stricter pandemic restrictions last year, Stoughton is excited to be able to celebrate together again. “It’s like a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel,” said LaPoint.

Seattle

In Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood, the 17th of May is usually heralded with a lively and jubilant parade. This year, the 17th of May committee is working to maintain as much of the usual festive spirit as possible in a hybrid program, with much of the celebration centering on food.

“This year we are having a virtual luncheon program, which will follow our normal luncheon program of our events in the past,” explained Anne-Lise Berger, chair of Seattle’s 17th of May Committee. “I’m really excited for … [the] luncheon box with lots of traditional Norwegian food that people can buy and eat at home while watching our program and feel like this is a very special day.”

The luncheon boxes are being provided by Scandinavian Specialties in Ballard and will be available for pre-order until May 10 to be picked up on May 16 and 17. 

“Besides [the luncheon box] we have our usual assortment of pins, sløyfer, and flags,” said Bjørn Ruud, owner of Scandinavian Specialties. “And of course, all of the traditional food items like melkesjokolade that make the day special. We have plenty of pølse med lompe to sell in the store and even more for customers to take home and prepare at their leisure.”

In addition to celebrating with food, there are also two smaller parades to participate in for those who miss the regular parade. One is a small car parade for revelers to watch, and the other is a walking parade to Skål Beer Hall. The routes and more details for these parades will be published soon.

Marte Mjøs Persen, the mayor of Bergen, Norway, one of Seattle’s 20 sister cities, will be the grand marshal for the festivities with Eric Nelson, the CEO and director of the National Nordic Museum, serving as honorary marshal. 

From music to delicious food, there is much to look forward to for this year’s 17th of May celebrations across the country. Whether you feel comfortable gathering with your community or celebrating from the comfort and safety of your own home, there is something for you. And of course, everyone is excited for what next year’s celebrations will look like. After two Norwegian Constitution Days without a proper celebration, 2022 is sure to be one for the books!

This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Courtney Olsen

Courtney Olsen is a writer based in Tacoma, Wash. She is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Oxford and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2020. A historical fiction enthusiast, she spends her free time working through her ever-growing reading list with a cup of tea in hand.

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