Syttende Mai Picnic

Every May, our lodge co-hosts a Syttende Mai Picnic in Carderock Park. See the Meetings & Events page for the date of this year's picnic.

The Origin and Evolution of the Syttende Mai Picnic

by Arve Michelsen, 2008

As we know it, our way of celebrating the 17th of May with a speech and parade had its beginning with the Norwegian Church Service in Washington, D.C. In the early years after its establishment, when the service was held in Georgetown, a member of the Norwegian-American congregation was invited to deliver a short address in observance of Norway’s National Day. According to my sources for history, Brit Peterson, Lilleba Kloster and Gunnar Grotos, the speech was followed with a short parade up the nearby street.

About 1981, the Norwegian Church in Washington organized the first local National Day picnic. It was held in Stoneybrooke Park, Virginia. Originally, the participants provided their own food and drinks. However, in 1984 the then president of the Norwegian Society of Washington, D.C., suggested that the Society and Sons of Norway, Washington Lodge, should assume the responsibility for food service. In a further development, the Royal Norwegian Embassy has become our invaluable source of impressive speakers. The list of dignitaries who have delivered our National Day address at the picnic includes the ambassador and other top level diplomats as well as visiting ministers of the Norwegian government.

For the most, cassette players and boom boxes provided the music for our parades at Stoneybrooke, although on some occasions local school bands favored us with their support.

After about 16 years, the number of ceremonial and picnic participants reached the full capacity of Stoneybrooke Park. At that time a committee of representatives from the Norwegian Embassy, the Sons of Norway, The Norwegian Society, and the Norwegian Church met to coordinate all activities related to the celebration of the 17th of May and to find a new location for the picnic. Coincidentally, the chairman of the Norwegian Church Committee was challenged to locate and engage a live brass band for the parade.

The Carderock Pavilion on the Potomac in Maryland became the picnic site of choice after thorough consideration of similar park areas in Virginia and Washington, D.C. The search for an appropriate band ended happily when the director for Arts and Music in the Montgomery County school system connected us with the Rockville Brass Band, a non-profit band comprised of accomplished musicians. We are grateful that the Royal Norwegian Embassy has provided sheet music for an appropriate National Day repertoire.

In all respects, the present picnic program is similar to that of 1997. It continues as a result of the cooperation of many organizations. The Embassy plays a prominent role in the overall arrangements; the Norwegian Church is responsible for the organization of the ceremonial program and its permit clearance with the National Park Service; Sons of Norway has firm control over the proficient preparation and serving of the picnic food and drinks, while the Norwegian Society and the Norwegian Ladies’ Club are joint sponsors of the arrangement through their support of the ceremonial and food service programs, as well as through their execution of several other special tasks.