Yesterday I belatedly discovered it was my ethnic group’s national holiday, Norwegian Constitution Day, and it was far too late to celebrate with any of our traditional food, music, or parades. In at least one of these cases, that may have been a good thing, because I consider lutefisk slightly less edible than dirt.
Dirt doesn’t usually smell that bad.
This is un-Norwegian of me, I know, and when you consider all the other tasty goods Norway has to offer, such as lefse, rosettes and krumkake, it also seems particularly unfair. I have been given to understand that more lutefisk is consumed by Norwegian-Americans than by actual Norwegians, however, so maybe I’m just a throwback to previous generations from the other side of the pond who believe lye is meant to be used in soap products rather than fish. Or maybe half-Norwegian just isn’t enough.
Syttende mai, meaning "May 17," is another name for Norwegian Constitution Day, and commemorates the date Norway became an independent nation in 1814. At that point Norway was still under Swedish control, which probably explains the occasional Swedish joke I hear from heritage-savvy family members.
To an American raised on Independence Day, Norwegian Constitution Day seems a bit odd, because while it is patriotic and celebrates Norway, independence and cultural traditions, its emphasis is on children. For America’s July 4, we have parades with lots of marching high school or adult marching bands and often, we thank our military on that day. In Norway, emphasis is placed on the children’s parades, though older students and adults also participate in them. Constitution Day and Independence Day both feature a lot of red, white and blue (also the colors of Norway’s flag) but on syttende mai, the children also dress up in traditional costumes and sing multiple verses of the Norwegian national anthem.
I was in high school before I found out "The Star-Spangled Banner" even had more than one verse.
But to all those of Norwegian heritage, and to all the rest, happy belated Norwegian Constitution Day!