17th of May Festival History
What is the 17th of May?
Day is the official National Day of Norway, celebrated on the 17th of May.
Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as "Syttende Mai" (17th of
May) or Grunnlovsdagen (The Constitution Day).
The Constitution of
Norway was signed at Eidsvoll, Norway on May 17, 1814. The constitution
declared Norway as an independent nation. The celebration of this day
began spontaneously among students and other people in early years. At
that time, Norway was under Swedish rule, and for many years the King of
Sweden was reluctant to allow such celebrations. For a few years in the
1820s, King Carl Johan forbade the celebrations.
It was not until
1836 that anyone ventured to hold a public address on behalf of the day.
That year, official celebration was initiated by the monument of the late
politician Christian Krogh, known to have stopped the king from gaining
too much personal power. In 1905, Norway separated from Sweden peacefully
and became a truly independent country.
coincidence, World War II ended when the occupying German forces
surrendered in Norway on May 8, 1945, just nine days before that year's
Constitution Day. Even if the Liberation Day is an official flag day in
Norway, the day is not broadly celebrated. Instead, a new and broader
meaning had been added to the celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day on
A noteworthy aspect of Norwegian Constitution Day is its
very non-military nature. All over Norway, children parade with an
abundance of flags. Each elementary school district arranges its own
parade with marching bands between schools. The parade takes the children
through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens, war
memorials, etc. The longest parade is in Oslo, where some 100,000 people
travel to participate in the festivities. The Oslo parade includes close
to 100 schools, marching bands, and passes by the Royal Palace, where the
Royal Family greets the people from the main balcony.
Norway, Norwegians all over the world celebrate the 17th of May with
parades, speeches, and more. Since 1889, The Norwegian-American community
of Seattle has celebrated the 17th of May, and now the festivities in
Seattle is touted as the third largest 17th of May celebration in the
world, behind Oslo and Bergen. Join us this year as we celebrate Norwegian
Constitution Day with a Norwegian-American flair!
Seventeenth of May Celebration in Seattle
In May 1889 before Washington became a state in November and before
the Great Seattle Fire in June, the first recorded Seventeenth of May
celebrations in Seattle were held. The two-day celebrations started on
Friday, May 17 with two banquets. The first was for both men and women
held at the Bellevue Hotel for the cost of a dollar. The arrangements were
made by H.C. Wahlberg with entertainment provided by a quartet. Later that
evening an elegant dinner for men only was served around 11PM at The
Arlington Hotel. It was arranged by Frank Oleson and included toasts for
The Seventeenth of May, Seattle, The Ladies, America, and Liberty.
The ten-course menu written in French included caviar, fillet of sole,
asparagus, and finished with cigars and fine liqueurs all for the price of
$5.00. The party dispersed at 3AM.
The next day, there was a large
celebration for everyone at the Armory Hall. It featured speeches in
Norwegian by Erik Thuland and in English by Judge R. B. Albertson. Mrs. E.
Bjerknes spoke for the women with John H. McGraw, who was Governor of the
state of Washington from 1893-1897, also speaking. The first committee was
headed by attorney Frank Oleson, the first editor of the Washington
Posten, then the Western Viking, and now Norwegian American
Weekly; his brother Richard Oleson; Alf Magnus; Henning Blomberg,
Julius Sunde, the Washington Posten's plant supervisor; Johan
Blaauw who became editor of the Tacoma Tidende; and restaurateur
years, the celebration has been at Ranke Hall, Christensen Hall, the Moore
Theater, Norway Hall, the Civic Auditorium, Masonic Temple, the Opera
House, Norway Center, The Backstage, and is currently held at Leif Erikson
Hall. Madison Park, Salmon Bay Park, Volunteer Park, and Leschi Park were
also the scene of many a celebration. Norwegian-Americans traveled by
steamer to jointly celebrate the day in Mukilteo, Vashon Island, Poulsbo,
and Seattle. Governors, state and federal congressmen, ambassadors,
members of Norwegian parliament, judges, professors, mayors, and
publishers have all given inspiring speeches for the day. In 1922 Captain
Roald Amundsen and members of his team attended the celebration while the
last snowdrifts were being shoveled out of the road on the summit of
There were two celebrations in 1897. On May 15 the
organizing committee was Den Norske Arbeiderforening, or Norwegian
Workingmen's Society. It featured a vaudeville performance of
Abekatten at Ranke's Hall followed by a ball with the Langer &
Luebens Orkester. Den Norske Klubben, later known as The Norse Club
held the celebration on May 17 at Ranke's Hall, too. Cost was 25 cents per
person; children under 12 were free. The evening was presided over by C.M.
Thuland. Mr. E. Berrum spoke in Norwegian about the history of Norway and
attorney Melvin Winstock spoke in English. Music played an important
element with the Norwegian Male Orchestra, several soprano pieces written
by Grieg, and a violin duet. The highlight of the program was a
performance of Not Even Jealous in Norwegian by an amateur theater
group. The evening concluded with the music of the Langer & Luebens
In 1901, before Norway actually received its
independence from Sweden in 1905, the day was celebrated at Madison Park.
In the afternoon there was music by the Wagner Music Corps with a parade
and then tour of the steam baths on Lake Washington. Over 2000 people
celebrated. The Pavilion was decorated with flowers, roses, palms and
hundreds of electric lights in red, white, and blue. In the evening there
were speeches in Norwegian by C. M. Thuland and English by Col Alden J.
Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times. Mrs. Astrid Petersen
played a violin solo and Mrs. Loe sang. The event was chaired by O. C.
Narvestad and organized by The Norse Club of Seattle. Fireworks blazed
across the sky in the evening. The ball, which cost 25 cents, started with
a Grand March to the music by Luebens Orchestra. The evening of dancing
didn’t end until 2AM!
There was also a celebration in the
neighboring town of Ballard beginning with a children’s parade from a
church to Ballard Park / Salmon Bay Park where there were speeches by
Ballard’s Mayor Johnson, Pastor Syrdal, and Col. Alden J. Blethen, who
spoke later in the evening at the Madison Park festivities. Music and
songs were also part of the day’s event. In the evening there was a
concert and speeches at the Germania Hall including a speech by the
state’s auditor, Mr. Clausen. Miss Stromburg and Grace Davenport sang
solos. The evening ended with the singing of Ja vi elsker dette
landet, now Norway’s national anthem.
Often there were at
least two celebrations each year hosted by different groups. Finally in
1929, the tradition of having a large celebration held in one place began.
It was arranged by a committee of representatives from many Norwegian
organizations as it is today with the Norwegian Seventeenth of May
Committee. Some years after Seattle Center was built in 1962, there was a
children's parade and processional led by the Leif Erikson Lodge Drill
Team to Norway Center, just a few blocks away. A traditional program
followed with anthems, performances, speeches and dancing until late!
The community parade in Ballard started in