Today is Syttende Mai, the 199th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of Norway. (Which makes today more like our Constitution Day, Sept. 17, than Independence Day, July 4.)
Lake Region State College Prof. Sam Johnson explains the significance of Syttende Mai:
Having been a Danish possession for four centuries, Norway was handed over to Sweden following a military defeat of the Danes by Sweden in 1813.
The Norwegians strenuously objected to the arrangement in which they had no voice, and on April 10, 1814 they elected by popular vote a National Assembly of 112 officials, merchants, and farmers to meet at Eidsvold, Norway outside Christiania (now Oslo) to draft a constitution inspired by the American Declaration of Independence and the French Constitution.
As one representative described the assembly:
“Here was to be seen a selection of men from all parts of the realm, of all ranks and dialects, men from court circles as well as landowners, who came together in no set order for the sacred purpose of laying the foundations for the rebirth of the nation.”
Six weeks later on May 17th, the National Assembly completed its work on the Norwegian Constitution, and on the same day closed its proceedings by electing Prince Christian Frederik as King of Norway and declaring Norway a “free, independent kingdom, united with Sweden.”
Sweden’s King, Karl Johan, accepted the Norwegian Constitution of May 17, 1814 as the basis for a political marriage of convenience with Norway. He had several reasons for doing this.
One of these reasons was that he hoped the new union might be strong enough to play a role in French politics because Napoleon Bonaparte had abdicated the throne just a month earlier on April 18.
Another reason was that he dreaded the prospect of a winter war with Norway, which seemed imminent should he not recognize their document.
Therefore, he accepted the Norwegian Constitution as an appeasing gesture, though he clearly intended to take back many concessions after he was crowned monarch of the dual kingdom in 1818.
In fact, King Karl Johan deliberately began trying to restrict the constitutional powers of the Storting (Norwegian parliament), and went so far as to extend his royal prerogatives in an attempt to bind Norway closer to Sweden.
However, the Storting defended what had been won in 1814, and well into the 1820′s, the common rallying cry “Guard the Constitution” was heard at national day processions.
At best, Karl Johan was able to maintain a constitutional monarchy.
By 1830, Karl Johan gave up the idea of revising the Norwegian Constitution, as did his successors, and “Syttende Mai” celebrations became genuine festivities that included a solemn procession of elders as well as a joyous children’s parade signifying hope for the future — a tradition that continues to be a special part of “Syttende Mai” celebrations in Norway today. ..
Although Norway’s union with Sweden continued for nearly another century, the Norwegian people kept up the pressure for separation and true independence.
Finally, in 1905 with the support of virtually the entire Norwegian populace, the Storting officially dissolved Norway’s union with Sweden, and Sweden was forced to recognize Norway’s complete independence.
To this day, the exuberance of “Syttende Mai” celebrations are evident not only in Norway, but also in Canada, and the United States where more than 4.5 million Americans trace their ancestry to Norway. …
Americans of Norwegian heritage mark this special day in much they same way as they do in Norway — with music, flag waving, lots of good foods and treats, and singing the national anthem ”Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (Yes, We Love This Land) with lyrics by Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson :
“Yes, we love this country,
as it rises forth,
rugged, weathered, above the sea,
with thousands of homes and families.
Love, love it and think
of our fathers and mothers
and the saga nights that sends
dreams to our earth,
and the saga nights that sends dreams to our earth.”
The Norwegian national anthem is not this …
… it’s this:
My varied ethnic background is one-fourth Norwegian. My grandfather (from whence comes the name “Prestegard,” originally spelled “Prestegaard” or “Prestegård,” meaning, depending on whom you ask, “animal farm,” “priest’s farm” or “rectory”) was born in the Owatonna/Blue Earth area of southeastern Minnesota before his parents died and he moved in with cousins in the Brodhead area. His father, Oscar, was born in Crawford County before moving across the Mississippi River to Minnesota at some point. Oscar’s father is the original immigrant, Peter, who was from Stavanger, Norway. So I am part of the fourth Prestegard generation, or the fourth generation of these Prestegards, on this side of the Atlantic. (Similar to my mother’s side of the family; my great-great-grandfather, Paul Wellner, came here from Brackenheim, Germany.)
That is pretty much all I know about my Norwegian background. (My ethnic background is so varied that to figure out our kids’ genealogy for a school assignment required us to divide into 42nds.) Norwegians settled all over Wisconsin, proof of which can be found in this weekend’s Syttende Mai festivals in Stoughton and Westby. (Those cities’ high school teams are named, respectively, the Vikings and Norsemen.)
My grandfather visited Norway a couple times before his death in 1994. It would be interesting to know why his grandfather, Peter Prestegaard, decided to depart Stavanger — which, being on the southern end of Norway, has the warmest weather in Norway, with average temperatures above freezing all year — for a place where the average temperature never gets above zero. Fahrenheit. (I exaggerate for effect.) But I suppose instead of castigating my great-great-grandfather for his poor weather choices, I should note that, like every immigrant to this country, he had the initiative to leave what he knew for a new land where he thought he would have more opportunity.
I don’t know a whole lot about Norway without doing some research, either. (I did a paper about Norway when I was in grade school.) Norway also was invaded by Nazi Germany at the beginning of World War II. The Nazis conducted heavy water experiments in Norway to develop their own atomic bomb, until the hydroelectric plant was destroyed by Norwegian commandos, known forever as the Heroes of Telemark.
As an added bonus, when the Nazis decided to move heavy water production to Germany, Norwegians sank the ferry carrying the heavy water. Norwegian civilians died in the sinking, but imagine the horror of Adolf Hitler with atomic bombs.
The wrong side is represented by Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who engineered a coup d’etat when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940. Quisling has the honor, if you want to call it that, of having his name become a noun — traitor. After the correct side won World War II, Quisling was executed. (Quisling’s American cousins started the Quisling Clinic in Madison, which employed my pediatrician, who correctly diagnosed my appendicitis on Valentine’s Day 1983.)
Unfortunately, Norway often seems to pale in comparison to its better known neighbor, Sweden, even though Norway has the second highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Sweden made cars. The industry of Norway generally has not included automobile manufacturers.
This is the Troll, 15 of which were built in the late 1950s. Wikipedia claims the Norwegian government wouldn’t allow more to be built because of a deal for Norwegians to buy Soviet and Eastern European cars in return for the Warsaw Pact’s purchase of Norwegian fish products. Apparently good government wasn’t, or perhaps isn’t, a hallmark of Norway. (When Norway became independent of Sweden in 1905, voters chose a monarchy over a republic. The first king was Dutch.)
Norway is trying to create an electric car industry, although the main manufacturer went (surprise!) bankrupt and is now owned by Russians. Norway heavily taxes cars powered by fossil fuels. (See the last sentence of the previous paragraph.)
Norway gets international sports attention only during the Winter Olympics in skiing-related events and for curling. Soccer is popular in Norway, but Norway has been in the World Cup exactly three times, never since 1998.
One of the more interesting aspects of Scandinavian culture is the increasing popularity of authors of Scandinavian-based crime fiction — Henning Mankel, creator of Swedish detective Kurt Wallander; Stieg Larsson, creator of The Girl Who trilogy (and there won’t be any more because Larsson died after three books); Karin Fossum, Norway’s “Queen of Crime”; and Anne Holt, a former Norwegian justice minister. There was also a movie set in Norway, “Insomnia” …
… remade with Al Pacino and Robin Williams. (Neither of whom are Norwegian. The later “Insomnia” substituted Alaska for Norway. On the other hand, the lead actor of the original “Insomnia” is Swedish.)
The list of popular Norwegian music does not include ABBA, but it does include A-ha:
There are probably only two Norwegian actors you’ve heard of, figure skater-turned actress Sonja Henje and Liv Ullmann, the latter only if you like the films of director Ingemar Bergman (who isn’t Norwegian either).
If you’re being an authentic Norwegian, according to Wikipedia (and you know Wikipedia is always correct), you should celebrate today with a Norwegian feast of lutefisk (whitefish soaked in water and lye), rutabaga, meatballs, cranberries and lefse (flatbread). (I have eaten at the famous Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay once; it served Swedish meatballs with lingonberries.)
The only authentically Norwegian food I have eaten is rømmegrøt, a porridge. Mrs. Presteblog once made it. It’s very good; it can be, in my mind, breakfast or dessert. Given its ingredients — wheat flour, sour cream, heavy cream, butter, salt, sugar and brown sugar — the health fanatics might wonder how Norwegians didn’t drop dead from instantly clogged arteries after eating it.