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Sons of Norway celebrates bicentennial

By Staff | May 16, 2014

Submitted by Pastor Mike and Alecia Pretzer Pictured here is a stave church, wooden churches built in Norway in medieval times. Norway is celebrating its bicentennial today. The Pretzers visited Norway recently.

Today in Norway, two historical events are being celebrated at the same time.

The country is celebrating its bicentennial today.

May 17 is known as Syttende Mai, the anniversary of the signing of Norway’s constitution. Businesses and government offices in Norway are closed and people take to the streets, watching parades and taking part in celebrations.

For the Rugby Sons of Norway lodge, the celebration has already started. On Friday, lodge members invited the general public to celebrate with them at an open house at North Star Community Credit Union in Rugby. Norwegian delights, including lefse and rommegrot, were served.

“One of the things the Sons of Norway is about is keeping traditions alive,” said Sharon Anderson, lodge president. She also said the Syttende Mai celebration is one of many activities the lodge does. Other activities include meetings on the first Tuesday of each month, lefse sales, demonstrations at the museum and participation in the 4th of July parade, and the lutefisk supper in the fall.

Submitted by Pastor Mike and Alecia Pretzer An old house in the Norwegian countryside. Pastor Mike and Alecia Pretzer took this photo during a recent trip to Norway.

Growing up, Anderson took on several traditions from her grandparents, who came from Norway. She passed on several traditions to her children, including baking and moral code that emphasizes peace, honesty and kindness.

Family tradition is also an influence in the life of Mildred Ingebo, one of the lodge’s active members.

“We feel our lives have been enriched by relatives we have in Norway,” Ingebo said. She recalled she and her four sisters, and their families, baking and singing traditional Christmas songs around a Christmas tree. Also at that time, she writes a letter to her relatives in Norway.

“There are still members, like Mildred, who have family there and do business there,” Anderson said. She added that another lodge member, Dallas Knudson, is heading to Norway on Monday to attend her daughter’s wedding.

Knudson saw firsthand how Syttende Mai is celebrated in Norway. In an e-mail, she recalled attending the 150th anniversary celebration.

“It was a huge success,” Knudson said. “I was privileged to attend four 17th of May parades in Oslo while working in Norway and Sweden for four years.

Both Anderson and Ingebo recalled instances of language barriers between Norwegian immigrants and others. Anderson said her mother went to a school in which half the kids spoke Norwegian and the other half German. Neither spoke English. Ingebo said her Grandma Ryan (pronounced ree-on) and her neighbor conversed in German and Norwegian.

How the constitution of Norway came to be is not lost on the local Sons of Norway lodge.

In 1380, after its people suffered substantially from the Black Death, Norway entered into a union with Denmark. Over 150 years later, Norway became a Danish province.

In early 1814, after staggering defeats in the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark signed a treaty whose conditions included handing Norway over to Sweden. Rather than be ruled by Sweden, Norwegians elected 112 representatives for the purpose of drafting a constitution. The representatives convened in Eidsvoll, Norway, where they drafted for weeks.

On May 17, 1814, the representatives signed the constitution they drafted, declaring sovereignty and independence. But it would be years before either was achieved.

Later that year, union negotiations with Sweden broke down and Sweden attacked. Norway was then forced into a union with Sweden, and their new constitution was altered to reflect it.

On June 7, 1905, Norway’s parliament voted to dissolve the union with Sweden. In August of that year, over 300,000 people voted in favor of dissolving the union, and the union was dissolved a month later.

With their sovereignty redeclared, Norway altered its constitution again to reflect its independence.

Since then, the Norwegian Constitution has been amended 400 times. It is the oldest constitution in Europe, and it is also the second oldest constitution still in effect in the world. The United States has the oldest constitution still in effect, edging out Norway’s by 25 years.

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