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Celebrate Syttende Mai!

There’s an abundance of Norwegian ancestry in this area and, this weekend, those with Scandinavian roots will have several opportunities to celebrate Syttende Mai.

Syttende Mai, which translates to “17th of May,” is Norway’s Constitution Day. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the national celebration.

While parades are marched and flags are waved in Norway, the local celebrations may be a little more low-key. Following are a few Syttende Mai events planned in this area.


Sandy Sheets and Heidi Bergerson, sisters and co-owners of the Scandinavian Gift Shop in downtown Alexandria, said Syttende Mai is about parades, flags and costumes in Norway.

“Every Syttende Mai there are parades in every town and everybody dresses up – you’re either in your bunad costumes or, if you don’t have a bunad on, you better have a suit on for their celebration,” Sheets said.

The bunad is an elaborate outfit that men and women wear and there are slight variations in pattern and design among Norway’s territories.

“They wear them for special holidays, weddings, things like that,” Sheets said.

On Saturday, the Scandinavian Gift Shop will celebrate Syttende Mai.

Bergerson said, “It was a tradition the previous owners, Doris and Wally Miller, had and so we’ve just continued with what they were doing.”

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., an open house will be held with treats, shopping discounts and prize drawings. “If anybody has a bunad, wear your bunad or your Norwegian costume,” Sheets said.

And you don’t have to be Norwegian to stop by the store to celebrate.

“Everyone is welcome. People stroll in and out, sit back here, visit, shop, have Scandinavian coffee and goodies and it’s pretty busy,” Bergerson said.


Syttende Mai will also be celebrated Saturday at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. rosettes, coffee and juice will be available in the museum lobby.

The museum has a special exhibit set up for Syttende Mai – it’s a collection of Scandinavian containers and antiques.

Jim Bergquist, director of the Runestone Museum, said, “We have a small trunk that was made in 1809 and rosemaled – the traditional Norwegian decorative painting. These particular ones were used by men and it’s a very early example of rosemaling.”

The exhibit also includes items made of birch bark, small bent-wood boxes from Sweden (one from 1821), flags from Scandinavian countries, a map of Scandinavia, oval-shaped trunks from Sweden and more.

The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for children age 5-17 or $20 per family.


“Norway’s struggle for independence has been more complicated than our own in America,” said Bergquist.

“In 1814, as a result of a war, Norway was freed from its rule under Denmark, but it then was forced into a union with Sweden. They weren’t too happy about that. However, in 1814, people in the Norwegian parliament got together and wrote a constitution similar to [the U.S.]. It was ratified on May 17, 1814. That’s why that day was so important to them – they finally had a constitution to call their own. It wasn’t until 1905 that they achieved their full independence from Sweden. That’s why Syttende Mai isn’t called their independence day, it’s their constitution day.”

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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