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Celebrate Scandinavian heritage

To the average American, the date May 17 probably doesn’t mean very much. But for some, especially members of the Hastings-Cottage Grove Sons of Norway Hjemkomst Lodge, it’s a day for celebration. May 17, or “Syttende Mai” in Norwegian, is the day when Norway signed its own constitution – its Independence Day.

In Hastings, celebrating Syttende Mai is an annual event for some people of Scandinavian heritage. In 1984, the first major celebration was held here and included a parade and gathering at Roadside Park. The event led to the creation of the local Sons of Norway lodge by January the following year.

Celebrating Syttende Mai is an annual event, said Duane Davick, past president of the Hjemkomst Lodge, but this year is special. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Norway’s independence.

“We thought we’d do something special by bringing some of the Norwegian community … together,” Davick said.

The lodge is holding a special dinner on Thursday, May 15, at the Hastings Country Club to celebrate Norway’s bicentennial, and it’s inviting those who aren’t members of the Sons of Norway to join them.

“It’s a good reason for celebration,” said Terrence Flower, vice president of the lodge.

The event itself will feature guest speaker Margaret Hayford OLeary, a professor and chair of the Norwegian Department at St. Olaf College. She will discuss the history and evolution of Syttende Mai from its beginnings to today with music, song and stories. There will also be a social hour and a silent auction featuring Scandinavian crafts and collectibles. Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks will also speak at the event.

Syttende Mai isn’t an American holiday, but many American customs and traditions have roots in Norwegian and other cultures, Flower said.

“We (in America) bring together the many disparate ideas and parts of cultures from many different groups. Together we form what has become the American culture,” he said.

The Sons of Norway group works to preserve that original culture. The group meets regularly to join in various culture-centered activities. For example, last month, members met and listened to a storyteller talk of what it was like in Norway in 1050 A.D. Every Christmas, they get together to make lefse and then sell it to the community, and December is also when they host a julebord, a banquet of Scandinavian holiday foods. Some members produce Norwegian crafts, like rugs made on a loom or Norwegian needlework.

Sons of Norway also engages with the community in the Rivertown Days parade.

The dinner May 15 still has seats available, so anyone – whether they’re interested in Sons of Norway membership or not – can register to attend. Tickets are $21 for the chicken dinner or $26 for the beef dinner. The price covers the cost of the meal.

For tickets, call Margaret Flower at 651-437-2005 or register online at