Traditions: Syttende Mai and Families

Since ODIN’S PROMISE became available, readers are being introduced to a variety of Norwegian foods and holiday traditions. That includes Christmas, (Jul) of course. The delicious cookies and kranse kake  pictured and described in previous posts are wonderful examples of that. Other occasions, like weddings, confirmations, and birthdays, incorporate treats like these, as well as lefse, favorite meals, and family-specific practices.

The national celebration of Constitution Day, the 17th of May (Syttende Mai), also has distinctly regional practices. These varied over the decades and across the vast expanses of the regions of Norway.

As with our Fourth of July, the size and scope of the celebrations in the capital, in Norway that’s Oslo,  are some of the most elaborate.  Click this link for an example from YouTube:    Oslo, Syttende Mai, 2012


The 2014 Stoughton "King and Queen" of Syttende Mai.

The 2014 Stoughton “King and Queen” of Syttende Mai.

 I’m excited to be spending Syttende Mai in Stoughton, Wisconsin this year, signing books at the Nordik Nook Gift Shop. Stoughton is well known for its annual three day celebration, falling on the weekend of May 16, 17, and 18 this year.

If you’re at all intrigued by the customs, costumes, foods, music, and traditions of Norway, plan to visit Stoughton. Not in Wisconsin? Do an internet search to see if other communities near you might be celebrating, too.

Kathleen Ernst has a helpful post here describing practices old and new.

Nancy (of cookie and kransekake fame) was kind enough to share more thoughts about her own family’s traditional practices.

Nancy, how important was your Norwegian heritage while growing up and did that carry over while raising your own family?

Nancy: I grew up in the Wind Lake area which at one time was settled by Norwegians when they came to America so there were a lot of traditional foods and celebrations. Norway Lutheran Church was one of the first Norwegian churches in America. They held Lutefisk dinners and still do today although the population is more diverse. We had all the Norwegian bakery including lefse at our holiday functions.

My grandparents taught us some of the Norwegian language but mainly spoke it to each other when they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying. When my husband (also Norwegian) and I were married at the church our reception was a traditional smorgasbord and we had a kransekake (celebration cake).  

We have always emphasized the Norwegian culture. Both of his parents are Norwegian (his father came to this country as a young man). So when our children were born we named them Erik Bjorn and Kari Ingrid. During the years, we have celebrated Christmas Eve every year with the same foods and traditions. The grandchildren have embraced the Norwegian traditions but I wonder if they’ll continue to appreciate their heritage after we are gone.


Hardanger lefsa (wheat base) served in western Norway.

Hardanger lefsa (wheat base) served in western Norway.

Our granddaughters love the Hardanger lefse (different than potato lefse) that I make around Christmas. So shortly before our youngest turned five, I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She replied that she would like me to make “that salsa” that she liked. I was puzzled as to what she was referring to. She said, “Grandma, you know……the stuff with sugar and cinnamon on that you make for Christmas!” Then it dawned on me that she was referring to lefse. It has been a birthday treat ever since.   Grandpa does the baking and I do the rolling.

Potato lefsa, commonly served throughout Norway.

Potato lefsa, commonly served throughout Norway.


What would you most like people to know about Norway and Sons of Norway?

Nancy: The country of Norway is considered one of the best places in the world to live and the Norwegian people are wonderful. Although our trip to Norway was some time ago, I found the people so friendly and unassuming and that made me proud to come from that “stock.”   Sons of Norway membership provides us the opportunity to remember our roots and be proud of them.

Thank you once again, Nancy, for a view into the world of your national and family traditions. I assure everyone that this attitude of welcome and hospitality extends to the Norwegian immigrant population in this country. Everyone is welcome to attend holiday events, Sons of Norway activities, and ask questions freely. Give it a try!

In the coming days I’ll be back with more colorful stories and visuals about Syttende Mai!


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