By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Plans are underway for the 62nd Annual Norwegian-American 17th of May Parade next month, an event that is always a highlight of the spring calendar in Bay Ridge. Picture kids dressed up as Vikings marching up Third Avenue and you get the idea of the fun aspect of the parade.
The parade, which celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Norwegian constitution on May 17, 1814, is sponsored by the Norwegian-American 17th of May Parade Committee of Greater New York and traditionally takes place on the Sunday closest to May 17.
This year, the parade will be held on Sunday, May 18, starting at 1 p.m. The parade route runs along Third Avenue from 79th Street to 69th Street, then up 69th Street to Fifth Avenue, then along Fifth Avenue to 67th Street and ends in Leif Ericson Park on 67th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, where a post-parade ceremony will take place featuring a guest speaker, John Bernander, a former assistant secretary of trade for Norway.
The theme of this year’s parade is “200 Years of Democracy.” This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution.
The parade continues to be a strong tradition in Bay Ridge, according to organizers, who said that the march draws big crowds every year despite the fact that very few Norwegian-Americans actually live there anymore. “People who moved away come back for it,” Parade General Chairman Arlene Rutuelo told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Rutuelo is the owner of Nordic Delicacies, a food market at 6909 Third Ave. that specializes in Norwegian goods. The shop serves as a kind of town hall for Bay Ridge’s Norwegian-American community.
Norway and the U.S. have close ties, Rutuelo said. “The Norwegians were inspired by the American Constitution when they wrote theirs. They also looked to France,” she said.
Up until the 1960s, tens of thousands of Norwegian immigrants called Bay Ridge home. A Village Voice article from 2008 noted that Norwegians first started arriving in Bay Ridge late in the 19th century, loving the community’s open countryside and waterfront views, which reminded them of a fjord in the old country. Bay Ridge became known as Little Oslo, and by 1930 there were over 60,000 Norwegians living in the neighborhood, according to the article. Many found work as seaman and shipbuilders on the Brooklyn waterfront.
The Norwegian-American community was centered for many years on Eighth Avenue. For the first decade or so of its existence, the 17th of May Parade took place on that avenue. The parade was moved to Fifth Avenue, where it remained for many years until two years ago, when it was moved again, this time to Third Avenue.
“There may not be a lot of us, but we’re proud of our traditions and of the contribution we have made to New York City,” Rutuelo said. “Our message is, ‘Don’t forget about us!’ We believe that all cultures in our city should be celebrated and that we can learn from each other.”
Rutuelo and the parade committee always make a point to honor other cultures by marching in other parades. For example, the Norwegian-American 17th of May Parade Committee had a contingent marching in the recent Bay Ridge Saint Patrick’s Parade on Third Avenue.
While the parade is the culmination of the Norwegian constitution celebration, it isn’t the only event taking place in Bay Ridge.
On April 12, the 59th Annual Miss Norway of Greater New York contest will take place at the Norwegian Christian Home and Health Center at 1250 67th St., at 2 p.m. It’s a beauty contest, but don’t expect a Miss America-style swimsuit competition. “We don’t want them just to stand there, smile, and look pretty. They have to have knowledge of Norwegian history and culture,” Rutuelo said.
To be eligible, a young woman must be between the ages of 17 and 22 and must have Norwegian ancestry. The contest is sponsored by the Norwegian Immigrant Association.
There are a lot of perks to winning the title. Miss Norway will get to ride in a convertible in the parade on May 18. She will officially receive her crown at the post-parade ceremony in Leif Ericson Park. The winner will also receive a round-trip ticket to Norway.
Other pre-parade activities: the parade committee will hold a dinner-dance on May 10 at Sirico’s Caterers on 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights and on may 17, the Scandinavian East Coast Museum will host “Viking Fest,” a festival with food, live music, and replicas of Viking ship, in Owl’s Head Park, Colonial Road and 67th Street.