Saturday I attended the ultimate Nordic celebration, Syttende Mai, in a part of Seattle called Ballard. Ballard is known for its Scandinavian culture as many Norwegian fishermen were drawn there many years ago due to the salmon fishing opportunities. Ballard's unofficial motto is "Uffda"...yes, this is most certainly true!
Syttende de Mai was extra special this year because it was the 200th year anniversary of Norway signing its constitution, and the 125th year anniversary of the celebration in Ballard. A crowd of over 20,000 people gathered for the parade and festivities! Can you tell I am proud of my Norwegian heritage?!!! A few years ago, as some friends and I were sitting around talking about our backgrounds, one of them asked, "Why is your Norwegian heritage so important to you? Don't you think in another generation we will just be all one big melting pot?" I admit...I was a little taken a back! I had never really thought about why it was important to me...I just knew that it was. After thinking about it for a while, I came to a conclusion.
I was proud of my Norwegian heritage because my parents had instilled that in me. Their parents (or grandparent) had come from Norway and had a deep love for the land, its' food, its' culture, and its' people. They had a deep work ethic....and yes, a certain tenacity for survival....which some call "stubbornness." They talked about Norway, sang Norwegian songs, said a Norwegian table prayer, and used Norwegian words in their speech. Words like, "Uffda" (good for a multitude of situations!)," Vaer sa god" (Please, come to the table)," Tusen takk" or" Mange tusen takk" (many thanks or a thousand thanks), "Takk for maten" (thanks for the food) were commonplace in our home growing up. Several times we had visitors from Norway, my Dad's cousins.
A year ago, as I was going through a box of some old photos and letters, I ran across a letter written by my dad's mother, Signe. It was a letter she had written to my mother in Japan, welcoming her into the family, since none of dad's family had even met my mother yet. As I read the letter, it struck me that her English was perfect, in spelling and syntax. This was note worthy because my Grandmother Signe had come to America by herself at the age of 19, homesteaded 80 acres in North Dakota, met and married my Grandfather, Olaf, and had birthed 11 children. How had she learned such perfect English? I asked my dad's sister, Lydia, that question over lunch one day. She responded that my grandmother had enrolled herself in school, shortly after arriving in North Dakota, because she wanted to fit into her new country. In the time that I knew her, I don't even remember a pronounced Norwegian brogue....she had learned her new language well. That, to me, was just another example of the Norwegian spirit that I am so proud of and thankful for.
Over ten years ago, I visited Norway for the first time with my cousin's wife, Lois. I can't really describe the feeling I had...except to say that I felt at home. There was this deep seated affinity for the land...the mountains and sea....and the people. I felt connected to my grandparents in a new way, even though both of my grandfathers died before I was even born. And the hospitality of the Norwegians was unsurpassed....as we were invited into homes and treated as family with people we had just met! So....yes, I am proud of my heritage....and I hope that this distinctive culture, as well as others, will always be preserved. Part of the joy of attending the Syttende Mai parade is seeing the old and the young...all celebrating together.
Syttende Mai was also special this year because of a party at Rachel's home (my cousin's daughter) in the heart of Ballard...right before the parade and after. This party was catered by our friend, Josh, of Essentially Josh. He put on a fabulous smorgasbord of open face sandwiches (Smorrebrod), meatballs and klub, Norwegian cheeses like Jarlsberg and Gjetost, and desserts like krumkake, Krunsekake, Almond kake, and my Verdens Beste Kake. Check out his blog post for more detail on the delicious food....truly a culinary delight!
The parade is fun, not only because of the floats and bands and Norwegians going by in their traditional native "Bunads", but because of the spirit of joy there. Many parade participants shout out "Hipp, Hipp"....and wait for the sidewalk crowd to respond, "Hurra"! Watching the children waving their flags, running into Norwegian friends on street corners, many dressed in some form of red and blue....I love it all! Thanks for indulging my Nordic tales...I am the daughter of Odin and Carola, (and grandaughter of Signe and Olaf, and Christine and Hans Olaf) after all!
Remember my friend, Heidi, that I mentioned in this post? Here she is...a credit to her country.