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Syttende Mai takes over the streets of Ballard

Posted by Meghan Walker on May 17th, 2013

By Ann Wilson

Hipp, hipp, hurra for the Syttende Mai (17th of May) parade in Ballard! The celebration gathered thousands to celebrate Norway’s Constitution day and a communal Norwegian pride last night on the streets of Ballard.

The festivity marked the 124th celebration of Syttende Mai in Seattle. When it began in 1889, before Washington even became a state, it was a smaller banquet and community hall commemoration. Over the years it developed, and eventually grew into a Ballard community parade in 1974. Today it is one of the largest Syttende Mai celebrations outside of Norway.

Photo credit Joel Conrad

Though the holiday was established in recognition of writing Norway’s Constitution in 1814, people today recognize it as a celebration of Norwegian heritage. Peder Digre, the president of the University of Washington’s Norwegian Club said: “I think the main idea behind the celebration is to really celebrate ‘Norwegian-ness’ for one day all around the world…I really like that the Syttende Mai parade in Ballard brings Norwegians together and provides a time to celebrate our common heritage. This is an especially rare opportunity for descendants of immigrated who most likely became Americans over 100 years ago!” Digre said. “It’s one of those shared experiences that bring people emotionally together and makes you feel like you ‘belong.’”

Photo credit Joel Conrad

Syttende Mai in Ballard unites people throughout the greater Seattle area. Of the parade participants many Norwegian organizations are represented including the six Sons of Norway lodges, Daughters of Norway, Norse Home, Norwegian Male Chorus, Norwegian Ladies Chorus and others. The parade also gathers many non-Norwegian groups throughout the community such as school marching bands and cheerleaders, unicyclists, clowns, Seafair pirates etc.

Christine Anderson, of the Sons of Norway Leif Erikson Lodge 2-001, enjoys watching the variety of entries the parade includes. “I’m always amazed how creative some of the groups get.” Anderson said. “The children’s groups from the schools are fun to watch. Seeing so many Norwegian flags flying is an incredible sight too! The Norwegian community is an active vibrant community often thought of by the press as being totally defunct except of trolls and lutefisk. The community is so much more than that.”

Photo credit Joel Conrad

Øystein Kjørsvik, a recent graduate from the UW, grew up in Bergan, Norway. Coming to the US in 2008, Kjørsvik has celebrated the Syttende Mai in Ballard four times. He said that the celebration is naturally larger in Norway; however, Ballard’s enthusiasm is one to compete with. He said: “It’s really fun to see the level of interaction here which in many ways can rival Norway…It seems like people get really into it here and everyone in the area is there to truly celebrate and enjoy a great Norwegian holiday. One can’t really help but admire the passion of some of the Norwegian old-timers around here.”

Photo credit Joel Conrad

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