IN THE HEART
The Sons of Norway
David John Smith for Norway Communicates.
Countless generations have worked with the sea and the land here in Norway, designing a lifestyle built on quality, endurance and integrity. This is a story that actually began 10,000 years ago as the northern glaciers of the last Ice Age melted away – setting the stage for the land of the Midnight Sun.
Towards the end of the ninth millennium, these people began to call themselves Vikings, the explorers of legend, traveling to Asia, Africa and Europe, even settling in North America more that 500 years before Columbus even began planning his voyages. Then, the era of the Viking ended, followed by the dark centuries when the Black Death and other troubles reigned.
Mass Exodus to the New World
The third decade of the 1800’s saw the beginnings of what would become an exodus to the great open spaces of America. Destiny waited, but it took the strong written voice of one young man to truly open the doors of possibilities to the many hundreds of thousands who would eventually make the long journey to the New World.
The population of Norway had increased and land had become scarce, triggering this mass emigration that was nothing less than astounding – with nearly one-third of the Norwegian population making the move to North America during the period from 1825 to 1925.
The "America Book"
The young man with the strong written voice was named Ole Rynning, who left for the United States in the 1830’s from the Norwegian municipality of Ringsaker in the county of Hedmark. Although Rynning died just one short year after settling in the Midwest, during his first and only winter he penned a publication that simply was called the “America Book” (SandfÊrdig Beretning om Amerika til Oplysning og Nytte for Bonde og Menigmand).
The "America Book" had a profound effect. Coupled with the Homestead Act that promised free land to settlers, Norwegians said goodbye to their homeland - where land ownership was scarce – to tame and make productive the wide-open spaces of the “New World”. Now, over 175 years after the death of the “America Book” author Rynning, there are more Americans of Norwegian descent living in the United States than there are Norwegians in the “homeland”.
An “Aunt in North Dakota”
In Norway, it seems that everyone has an “aunt in North Dakota, an uncle in Minnesota” or a child going to school somewhere in the United States. The result is that there is perhaps no country in the world that has greater fondness for the United States than Norway.
The feeling is mutual, as the millions of transplanted Norwegians keep the culture alive through use of the Norwegian language, eating debatable delicacies such as the extremely fragrant “lutefisk” (fish fermented in lute), trips “home” to visit relatives and friends - and of course the annual celebration of the national holiday every year on the 17th of May.
The Sons of Norway
The strongest tie that binds this societal fellowship together is the organization called “Sons of Norway”, formed in the late 1800’s (1895 to be exact) in Minnesota by a handful of Norwegian immigrants. These men wanted to see to it that organization members and their families were protected during hard times, whether they be financial or health-related. Over the years, the scope of the organization has expanded to include preserving cultural and social aspects of being a Norwegian.
From a humble beginning of just 18 founding members, the Sons of Norway has grown to over 60,000 members from literally every part of the United States, with over 400 meeting places (“lodges”) that give members a strong feeling of being “back home” through language camps and classes, scholarships, handicrafts, cooking and heritage classes, heritage programs, sports programs, travel opportunities, the publication Viking Magazine, and outreach programs sponsored by the Sons of Norway Foundation.
Norwegian Spirit – Alive & Kicking
At the heart of the Sons of Norway organization are the many different cultural events and “fests” that are held each year, including the Annual Ibsen Festival held in Lanesboro, Minnesota – now in its’ 14th year. Henrik Ibsen is known as “the father of modern drama”, and in many ways, Ibsen personifies the Norwegian. If you truly want to go deep into the soul of a Norwegian, look closer at Ibsen’s legendary portfolio of work, and start your journey in Lanesboro, Minnesota each April.
The annual Viking Fest held in Poulsbo, (“Little Norway”) Washington each May features a parade, road race, a Viking Village, Carnival, entertainment, arts & craft and food booths and of course – a Lutefisk Eating Contest. Other 2011 Events include the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival held each year in Estes Park Colorado, to be held on the 25th and 26th of June in Estes Park, Colorado.
This is only a taste of what the Sons of Norway has to offer. Take a look and see that all is well with the Norwegian Spirit in the heart of the USA – and beyond –on the Sons of Norway website.