May 16, 2014
This weekend some of the residents at The Danish Home of Chicago will be traveling to neighboring Park Ridge to participate in the 17th of May Parade, or Norwegian Constitution Day Parade. Known as Syttende Mai (May 17) and Nasjonaldagen (The National Day) in Norway, it commemorates the anniversary of when Norway’s constitution was signed at Eidsvoll in 1814.
Like similar national holidays around the world celebrating independence, such as Denmark’s June 5th Grundlovsdag (Constitution Day) or America’s July 4th, Syttende Mai festivities involve parades, parties, costumes (the bunad is a traditional Norwegian dress that is worn during Constitution Day) and social gatherings across Norway. In addition, other Norwegian communities across the globe host celebrations as well, such as the one held to be held in Park Ridge by the Norwegian National League.
Brief History of Scandinavia
Norway, Denmark’s neighbor to the north, is part of what is now referred to as the cultural-linguistic region of Scandinavia, which encompasses the geographical areas of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Not to be confused with the Nordic region of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, as well as Finland and Iceland (and their autonomous regions: the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands and Greenland).
This region of Northern Europe has an extensive history dating back to 10,000 BC with the earliest inhabitants, and later The Vikings (8th-11th centuries). Between the 10th and 13th centuries this region was unified into the three kingdoms. In 1397 Norway entered the Kalmar Union, which brought Norway, Denmark and Sweden together under one monarchy until Sweden rebelled in 1523. The 17th century saw many wars between Denmark-Norway and Sweden. The Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800’s had a devastating effect on the Norwegian economy, and finally on May 17, 1814 the Constitution of Norway was signed, considered to be one of the most liberal constitutions in the word at the time. However, today Scandinavia is known to be a far more peaceful and content place.
The Move to the US
Around the time of Norway’s independence, there was a massive movement of Scandinavians fleeing their homeland with hopes for a better future, freedom from oppression or simply excited by the prospect of opportunity and adventure.
Between 1861 and 1881, 150,000 Swedes traveled to the US, and in 1900 Chicago was home to 150,000 Swedes and Swedish Americans. It was widely considered the second-largest Swedish city in the world.
However, Norway had an even greater influx of its population immigrate to the US—nearly 1 million people between 1820 and 1920! Although emigration from Norway to North America started more slowly, by the end of the 1860s there were more than 40,000 Norwegians in the U.S.
Danes were more urban than most other Scandinavian immigrants, and although many tried grain and dairy farming upon their arrival in the U.S., most eventually moved to cities and towns. Between 1820 and 1990 more than 375,000 Danes came to the United States and Chicago led the way in 1900 with over 11,000 Danish-born residents.
Many of The 12 Founding Women of The Danish Home were part of this great migration. Today many of the residents at The Danish Home can proudly say that their ancestors were the Danish-born residents who forged the first Chicago communities and neighborhoods. Whether or not you are of Scandinavian descent, the Syttende Mai festivities can either signify an important part of your ancestral history, or be a great excuse to embrace another culture and celebrate. I know the residents of The Danish Home will be!