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.
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.
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