Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Syttende Mai!

May 17th, the anniversary of Norway's constitution, is celebrated in Norway and in communities with Norwegian roots around the world. And one of those communities is here in Seattle! Ya, sure, you can pop over to Ballard to see a colorful (red, white, and blue) parade, starting at 6:00 this evening. There's more, too: a luncheon, children's activities, and entertainment, all afternoon.

I'd heard that Seattle's Syttende Mai parade was the largest in the US, but Wikipedia gives that honor to Stoughton, WI. Still, the event in Ballard is a sight to behold. And to hear—not just the marching bands, but also the sweater-clad people in the crowd chatting away in Norwegian.

A little history:

Norway was united with Denmark from 1450 to 1814. During the Napoleonic wars, Denmark and Norway were allied with France, and after Napoleon was defeated, the Danish king handed Norway to Sweden as part of the peace settlement. The Norwegians were not enthusiastic about this deal.

Christian Frederick, the governor of Norway and also the nephew of the Danish king, encouraged a Norwegian revolt against Sweden. A group adopted a constitution on May 17, 1814, and selected Christian Frederick to be the king of Norway. But the Swedes put down the revolt with their military. By October, the Swedish government had accepted the Norwegian constitution (with alterations to accommodate the union), and Christian Frederick had left the country.

The union with Sweden was rocky. In 1905, Norwegians voted overwhelmingly (368,392 to 184) to end the union and it was peacefully dissolved.

Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democratic system of governance. You can read an English translation of the 1814 Norwegian constitution, as amended (most recently in 2007), here, on the website of the Storting (Norway's parliament). A brief essay about it is here.

If you can read Norwegian (or you'd like to pretend you can), see the text here.

Let's toast the Norwegian constitution today. Skol!

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