It’s a big day as I write this column. You know — it’s Syttende Mai.
What-in-the-who, you say?
Syttende Mai, the 17th of May, Constitution Day, is the national day of Norway celebrating the signing of its constitution in 1814 that declared it an independent country. OK, maybe it’s not that big a deal for all of my readers.
However, I’m three-quarters Norwegian and my wife’s 100 percent, which, if I do the math correctly, means our children are seven-eighths. Everything in me but the Taylor is Norwegian. Between my wife and I we could go back to Norway and still find relatives and places named Dokken, Oium, Larson, Kjorstad, Mogen, Wisness and Thordal.
So we recognize Syttende Mai in our house, and, being open minded, global-thinking Scandinavians, we also have an appreciation for other people and other holidays: Cinco de Mayo for our friends to the south, Canada Day for our friends to the north and St. Patrick’s Day for our friends at the pub. The list goes on. Of course, celebrating our Fourth of July Independence Day goes without saying.
Heritage is a special thing to embrace as a people. You can be proud of your country, in our case America, and still have pride in your old country, in our case, Norway. Most times, anyway.
The Taylors weren’t sure what homeland to place their pride in. The Taylors, I’ve learned from my genealogical aunt, came to America from England around 1640 or so. However, my father said he’d always been told we were Scotch Irish. I suppose Taylor could have passed for lowland Scottish, but it didn’t have a MacTaylor ring to it.
Dad wasn’t the first one to fall for the Scotch Irish story. My genealogical aunt found out we’d perpetuated the myth since the Revolutionary War days. The Taylors fought in the Revolution and were for independence from England. They began claiming Scotch Irish ancestry at that time because they didn’t want to be English anymore. It stuck for a couple hundred years. Either way, I still like bagpipes and tartans.
I suppose it’s our affinity for the underdog, the little guy, that made us want to be Scottish or Irish, or even Norwegian, for that matter. Norway was underdog to those heavy handed, oppressive Swedes. That sounds funny now, I know. And as colonial Americans — Scotch Irish, or whatever we were — we were underdogs to the imperial British.
So we cheer for the underdog, we cheer for ourselves and we remember the romantic days of yore when we were fighting for independence and writing constitutions and declaring the best practices of underdog democracy.
And, now, Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, thanks in great part to vast pools of oil and gas off its coast, and America has gone from colonial underdog to world superpower.
In remembering where we come from, we hopefully stay a little humble. We remember a time before wealth and world status. In Norway, they remember when the people wrote a constitution in 1814 that was considered radically democratic for its time. It’s still about people and it’s celebrated with parades of children in that spirit.
The idea of governing yourself, not as a colony, but as a country, is a common theme around the world. So pick your holiday — Norwegian, American, Canadian, Mexican or nearly any sovereign nation — and remember the struggles that got you to where you are today.
In finding our roots, we find our humility. Ask any humble Norwegian: a little humbleness is a good thing.