Every year, the arrival of spring in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is not marked by tree blossoms or birdsongs or baseball – it is marked by throngs of Norwegians marching down Fifth Avenue for syttende mai
The 17th of May is Norwegian Constitution Day, and this Sunday’s parade
continued a tradition Norwegian-Americans in Bay Ridge have had since 1952. From watching it you would think that Bay Ridge is still a predominantly Norwegian community. Sons of Norway chapters, Norwegian churches, and Norwegian sporting clubs from across the region converge on the neighborhood every year (there was even a contingent from St. Olaf’s College in far off Northfield, Minnesota), but Bay Ridge is a changed place since waves of Scandinavian immigrants began arriving in the late nineteenth century. Today, you will find far more residents from China, Greece, and the Arabic-speaking world, but Norwegian-Americans still trace their heritage back to this community, though they have mostly scattered to the suburbs.
The Vikings are coming.
This year’s parade marked the convergence of two important anniversaries. May 17 marks the day in 1814 when Norway ratified its constitution, though it would take another 90 years to secure independence. Norway had been released from its union with Denmark that year, only to be immediately absorbed by Sweden. But the Norwegians did hold a constitutional convention, and that document stayed in force throughout the period of union with Sweden, and remained in place through Norway’s independence in 1905.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Norway’s national poet and the author of the country’s national anthem. The theme for this year’s parade was “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” – “Yes, we love this country,” the first line of the anthem. The endless sea of Norwegian flags, festooning shirts and hats and waved by nearly every sidewalk reveler, show that residents cherish their bonds to Norway. It also shows that even though the Norwegian community in Bay Ridge is small, they still hold tight to the neighborhood. I wondered if for some, the opening lines of the anthem evoked even stronger feelings for Brooklyn than for Norway. It truly was a neighborhood celebration, and you didn’t have to be Norwegian to participate – Chinese members of a local church marched by, and even I, a Swedish-American, had a great time.
Yes, we love this land – Brooklyn.
The grand marshall of this year’s parade was former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who grew up in East Islip, Long Island. His remarks from the grandstand were brief, though he did comment on the squareness of his own head, and his susceptibility to the harsh rays of the sun (“square-head” is common epithet for Norwegians and Swedes, though it has been reclaimed, and it is more often a source of pride than an insult.) One of the most impressive displays was the police department brass band from the city of Bergen, in western Norway – I imagine it is an opportune time to be a criminal in Bergen, since most of the city’s police force appeared to be performing in the parade.
The Norwegians do not just come out one day in May, however; there are still several cultural institutions around the neighborhood that have carried on the traditions of the community. The neighborhood used to be filled with Norwegian bakeries and grocers, but today, Nordic Delicacies
is one of the last places still selling Lutefisk and canned fish cakes (both the bane of my father’s childhood). Gjøa Sporting Club
, founded in 1911 by Norwegian seamen in Bay Ridge, runs a thriving youth soccer program. The Scandinavian East Coast Museum
is raising funds for a permanent home, they conduct research and build their collection, and occasionally they put on exhibitions. Due to the shrinking of the Norwegian community in Bay Ridge, the Scandinavians have banded together to share some common institutions. The Danish Athletic Club has more Norwegians than Danes filling its dining hall most of the time. Norwegian and Swedish interlopers can’t keep the place afloat, so even non-members who would like to grab a bite are welcome as well. They even let a couple Swedes march in the parade, though just a couple – Miss Sweden followed Miss Norway of Greater New York in the motorcade (the Swedes have their own celebration
, which will be held in June, though there is no parade.)
Even if you missed the parade this Sunday, there are still lots of ways to experience Scandinavian Bay Ridge, and there is always next year – even after the last Norwegian leaves the neighborhood, I have a feeling people will keep coming back to here for generations to celebrate their heritage.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact email@example.com.
If you are looking for something to do this weekend (and don't have plans to join us for a Brewed in Brooklyn tour), the Taste Williamsburg Greenpoint Festival will be taking place this Sunday.
This celebration of the neighborhoods of northern Brooklyn will feature the cuisine of the area's top restaurants, live music performances, cooking demonstrations, and all of the proceeds will go to a great cause. This event will support the building of the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center to be housed in the converted historic former Engine Company 212 firehouse, which was the subject of two massive sit-ins, an award-winning documentary and the inspiration to turn around the areas crumbling economy and infrastructure with years of community organizing. The center will be the home of two long time community groups Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the People’s Firehouse, Inc. (PFI), provide affordable meeting space to local groups, and house a first floor gallery space to be maintained by a collective of local art groups. The money raised will go toward the project’s capital fund, which needs to reach $1 million by next year, to begin the renovations to convert the building into this much-needed resource.
Some of the local businesses that will be participating from Williamsburg and Greenpoint: An Nhau & Banh Mi, Antek, Aurora Ristorante, Bakeri, Bedford Cheese Shop, Blackbird Parlour, Brooklyn Brewery, Diner, DOC Wine Bar, Dressler & Dumont, Fabiane's Cafe & Pastry, Fatty 'Cue, Fornino, Juliette, Karczma, Le Barricou, Lodge, M Shanghai, Manhattan Inn, Mesa Coyoacan, Miranda, Nita Nita, Pies 'n' Thighs, Rabbithole, Rye, Sel De Mer, Sweetwater, Taco Chulo, Teddy's Bar & Grill, Traif, Van Leeuwen's Ice Cream, Walter Foods, Wine Cellar Sorbets, and Wombat.
Details for the event:
Date: Sunday May 16th, 2010
Time: 12 – 4 pm
Location: N 11th St. Between Berry St and Wythe Avenue
Tickets: $35 for 6 tastes, $55 for 10 tastes, $95 for 18 tastes
Advance purchase at brownpapertickets
Tickets will also be available at participating venues and on the day of at the Ticket
Booths on North 11th St. (cash only)