Stoughton (Stoh-ton), Wisconsin is well known for its Norwegian Heritage. You will find hints of it scattered throughout downtown. Come May, Stoughton really comes alive to celebrate their Heritage with their Syttende Mai Festival (Set-ten-de-my). With the help of locals and visitors from all over, the weekend-long celebration is a much looked forward to and very busy event every year.
Syttende Mai Festival in Stoughton, Wisconsin
Why is Syttende Mai Celebrated?
Syttende Mai is Norwegian for ‘the 17th of May’. While it seems like a random date, the 17th of May actually celebrates the Norwegian Constitution Day. This is a National Day and observed as an official holiday in Norway.
When Does Stoughton Celebrate?
Syttende Mai is celebrated on the weekend closest to May 17th. Stoughton, Wisconsin has a celebration that happens either the weekend before, the weekend of, or, the weekend after the actual date.
What Does the Syttende Mai Festival Entail?
This three-day celebration kicks off on Friday afternoon and festivities continue all weekend until the end of the parade on Sunday. Food stands and trucks are scattered throughout downtown and activities are all over as well. It is a great weekend for socializing and enjoying great food.
Friday begins the three-day event that is Syttende Mai. Many of the food trucks and tents open for lunch but, downtown is pretty quiet most the day. Come evening, it becomes more lively. The unofficial start is the canoe race. However, there is an opening ceremony that evening right before the canoe race. The biggest part of the canoe race is the portage. Many teams dress up in fun costumes to show off while they portage. You will also find a few other things happening in other parts of town. Stoughton Village Players put on a play several times during the weekend and Friday night is the first showing. You will also find a beer tent with live music (usually local bands) and a street dance geared towards the tweens.
Saturday is the main day of the three-day event. There is so much going on that it is hard to do and see it all. Before the sunrises, the Run/Walk starts in Madison, Wisconsin. Runners start coming into town around 9 am. You will find another show at the Stoughton Village Theater, a craft fair at the Middle School, a Strongman/ Tough Woman competition, and several appearances by the Norwegian Dancers. Saturday afternoon, there is the ‘Kiddie Parade’. This is a short parade but, much looked forward to by the kids. It is always so much fun for them. You can also catch a show at the Opera House for most years.
Sunday is a little bit more lowkey as far as activities go but, there is still quite a bit to do. The craft fair is still going and you can see one of the last showings of the weekend show at Stoughton Village Players Theater. The most looked forward to activity on Sunday is the ‘Big Parade’. Chairs and blankets are put out on Saturday night to save spots and vendors walk to road with cotton candy. The parade lasts about three hours and is a lot of fun. After the parade, everything starts closing and packing up for the year.
Who Are the Norwegian Dancers?
The Norwegian Dancers are a group of high school students that was started in 1953 to Honor the Norwegian Heritage of Stoughton. They share the traditional Folk Dancing commonly seen in several different areas of Norway. They can be seen locally and have traveled around the world as well.
The group has grown from 12 dancers and accordion players to 20 dancers and three keyboardists. It is looked upon as a high honor to be apart of the Norwegian Dancers both by other students and those in the community.
Syttende Mai means spring has sprung and summer is close. It is very looked forward to after a long winter. It is a time when the whole community gets together and visits outside enjoying the spring air (or rain) while celebrating the Norwegian Heritage that Stoughton, Wisconsin is known for.