Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Syttende Mai

This weekend was the annual Syttende Mai festival in nearby Stoughton. Syttende Mai (Set-nuh my) or "17th May" is Norwegian Constitution day -- NOT to be confused with Norwegian Independence. In 1448 Sweden broke away from Denmark, but Denmark's dominance over Norway continued much longer. In 1814 Denmark ceded Norway to Sweden. Norway refused to acknowledge the treaty of Kiel, drawing up its own constitution signed on May 17, 1814, which Sweden refused to honor, defeating Norwegian troops and forcing the country to accept the Swedish king. It would be nearly 100 years before Norway gained independence again, which they did in 1905. Syttende Mai is celebrated in Norway much as July Fourth is in the USA, with huge parades and flags everywhere.

Settled by Norse immigrants, Stoughton has celebrated Syttende Mai on the weekend closest to the 17th since 1868, when Norwegian immigration to southern Wisconsin was at its peak. Events during the three-day celebration include a canoe race and dinner/dance Friday night; a run/walk from Madison to Stoughton, children's parade, and ugly troll contest on Saturday; a big parade (94 entries this year --about 2 hours long!) on Sunday; and craft demonstrations, a Viking encampment, arts & craft fair and performances by the world famous Stoughton HS Norwegian Dancers on Saturday and Sunday. Not to mention food. Lots and lots of food. The mouth-watering aromas hit you before you even get to Main Street, everything from hamburgers, brats and hotdogs to lefse and walking tacos. And, this being Wisconsin, the requisite cream puffs, roasted corn and deep-fried cheese curds are also on hand.

Both American and Norwegian flags line Main Street, and many of the locals wear traditional Norse costumes. Most of the stores along this thoroughfare are open until the start of the parade, hoping tourists down for the day will wander in. One thing that surprises me is how few shops don't reopen for a couple hours after the parade. Granted this is a small town where few downtown shops are ever open on Sunday, but given that this is one of their two big tourist events of the year with scads of people in from out of town, you'd think they'd want to take advantage of that.

With the nice weather, there was a huge crowd gathered for this year's parade and -- miracle of miracles -- it was one of the first years without a major incident during the parade. Seems like there's almost always something. A few years back, one of the food vendors near the parade start caught on fire just as the parade was about to begin, delaying the event by more than half an hour. Another year one of the stilts walkers took a hard fall directly in front of us -- and actually walked away from it. I still can't believe he didn't fracture a hip the way he landed, but we saw him later at the arts & craft fair and he seemed perfectly fine. Bet he was feeling it the next day, though! None too urprising, he has not participated in the parade the past two years now, though there have been other stilts walkers.

Mere minutes after his tumble, one of the Zor Shriner motorcyclists hit a wet patch on the road during their show and slid into the crowd, injuring several people. I've seen these guys in tons of parades since I was a little girl, without incident, and it saddens me that after one accident parade rules were changed so that now several of the Zor groups can no longer participate. Sad, really, because as the stilts walker demonstrated, absolutely anything can go wrong at any given time. There are no guarantees, no way to completely protect a crowd of this magnitude, and most people realize they take their chances at such an event. Animals get spooked and bolt, stilts and bikes break, and motorcycles slide on wet pavement where a child's dropped ice cream cone has melted. Over-reacting guarantees nothing.

At least the Zor Camel Patrol was there again this year. They're a sort of sentimental favorite as a friend of my father's used to march with them. I remember going over to their house when we were kids. It was filled with camels...stuffed, ceramic...all different sizes and colors, and there always seemed to be something new. For years they boarded their camels at the Vilas Zoo and gave camel rides two weekends a month. Pity the kids today miss out on that. There are still camels at the zoo, but no more rides, the Shriners having moved their animals out to Oregon (the town, NOT the state) a few years ago.

So that was my Sunday -- standing the warm sun far too long while watching the parade, and checking out a few of the shops and arts & crafts fair. I did buy a few new stamps at a scrapbook store, Just For Keeps, but nothing else really called to me. Okay, so there were some gorgeous $45 dollar necklaces we were admiring at one booth, but I haven't that kind of cash to spend on something I'll probably never get to wear. I had a headache from the glare of the sun, and my right elbow has been killing me since I got home. Well before that, actually, probably from carrying the tote holding blanket, camera, sunscreen and water bottles. Took something for that and the headache as soon as I got home, wrapped the elbow and napped a bit -- which helped the headache if not the elbow. The latter is still paining me today, even though I've been wearing the elbow brace most of the past two days. I think I need a new arm!

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