Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Syttende Mai

We started the tradition years and years ago, and I'm happy to say that we are going strong almost 15 years later. I really find it hard to believe that there are things in my life that have been happening for more than 10 years, let alone 15.

It's the same feeling I get when I realize that I have known my bestie for 25 years. I know, I know. I was lucky at 5 years old to meet one of my closest friends.

Anyway. We started the tradition of celebrating Syttende Mai about 15 years ago.

Syttende Mai is Norway's Constitution Day. It falls on the 17th of May each year, and with it comes big celebrations. One of the main "attractions" for a Syttende Mai celebration in Norway is the parade. Each community has a parade of its own featuring flags, costumes, and marching bands. The biggest parade takes place each year in Oslo, with some 100,000 people attending (!). Each parade ends with the singing of Norway's national anthem.

Doesn't that sound awesome? We had a 4th of July parade where I grew up. I remember decorating our bikes and painting our faces to take part in the parade down Main Street. Those parades always gave a sense of American pride, as I'm sure the Syttende Mai parades do.

Our celebration, though, isn't so traditional.

We start our celebration with the same skit every year, performed by my younger brother and two younger cousins. They are the lucky boys that get to wear the plastic helmets show above.

It's amazing what twenty-something men will do for their 89 year old Grammy!

 At the beginning of this tradition, they would stand on my grandparents' toy chest and read from their script, so that the adults sitting at the dining room table could see and hear. Once the skit was complete, they'd be sent back to the kitchen to eat at the kids' table. Was it just my family, or did everyone want to stay at the kids' table as long as possible?

The grown ups all eat dinner and, as an after dinner (but pre-dessert) treat, tell jokes. My dear sweet grandmother is kind enough to search her Ole and Lena joke books and print off the most appropriate ones to share around the table. After each joke, we sip aquavit from a shot glass and wash it down with dark beer. I'm now learning, though, that purists don't agree with this practice. I'll have to let my grandma know we've been doing it backwards all these years!

Every May 17th, I am reminded that my dear sweet Boppa was half Norwegian. Both of his parents came to the US as teenagers and settled in Minneapolis. When they met, language was their only common bond. Neither knew English. Their Norwegian heritage is what brought them together.

My grandpa has passed on; we just recently celebrated the 2nd anniversary of his death, but the tradition of Syttende Mai continues. Every year, we will gather in my grandmother's dining room and raise our glasses, both in memory of Boppa and in celebration of our Norwegian ancestry.

And when we're lucky, we are graced with the presence of Minnesota's state bird.

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