Woke up on Syttende Mai in Norway! Pretty cool! At breakfast Brita greeted me with a “gratulerer med dagen” That’s right! They say that on both birthday’s and Syttende Mai, but this time it’s for real!

We all get dressed up in our bunads and head outside for official pictures and group filming (can’t wait to see how the pictures turn out!) Fridtjof approaches to let us know “the parade is just down the street” and that we’d need flags to go with our outfits! I instantly assume this is “reality” filming and that we’d go to the parade that night, but that’s the Ballard way. At home, May 17th isn’t a national holiday like it is here, so we have to wait until people are off work to have our parade. But Fridtjof is right, it’s parade time!

When I knew I’d be in Norway on Syttende Mai, I’d hoped for the classic big city shindig… Bergen or Oslo – so I was a bit disappointed when I learned we’d be in Dalen… a tiny community in Telemark – population ~800. When we walked out to the parade route, I was confused. There was nobody lining the streets, and there was hardly a sign of life to be seen. But then on the horizon I saw what appeared to be a small army of people walking towards us – we’d found our parade.

In Ballard, Syttende Mai is literally the biggest day of the year. It’s when people come from far and wide to celebrate Ballard, our Norwegian heritage, and our community. There are thousands of participants, and even more spectators who line the streets 3 and 4 deep over the ~mile long parade route.

The lack of spectators made perfect sense as the mob of people approached. The community came together, and literally almost everybody in town was IN the parade. Bunads flourished in every direction, with many from the area looking like twins of Joni in her West Telemark get up (our current location). Children marched at the front of the pack playing instruments, and marching together with the rest of their school grade. 15 slightly rowdy Russ celebrated their final day of partying before buckling down for final exams. In a gesture that would make my mom tear up, the entire old folks home had chairs set up right outside their facility, and the parade went right down their driveway and stopped for school kids to play them a few songs – it was all very sweet.

My initial disappointment at the lack of a large celebration quickly dissipated, as I realized this was a far more “real” experience. This is what most Syttende Mai celebrations are like around the country – folks in small communities coming together as one to celebrate their constitution day, while wearing their national uniform that is unique to their specific region. An amazing experience to say the least.

We got to walk in the parade, interact with the locals, and take in the scene. A ton of the young kids looked like a young version of me. After coming back to the hotel for lunch, it was off to the West Telemark Museum for more interviews and filming. During our down time, I managed to get a ton of great photos by the stave church (of both myself and others). We got our third meal of the day, along with a whole bunch of ice cream, before heading back to the hotel. I say third meal of the day, because our filming days are often so long that we’re fed full meals four times a day.

Back at the hotel, we filmed ourselves “arriving” at our “fairy tale castle” for the “first time”. We did this on boats on the water, reenacting a famous painting. While it was a bit cheesy (pretending it was the day before, etc.) going on a little boat ride on the Telemark Canal with a Hardanger fiddle player was pretty damn incredible.

They filmed our “first arrival”, us standing around the fire discussing a painting that looked a lot like what we just recreated, and then filmed a scene of us eating some rummegrot and discussing what was to come “tomorrow” on Syttende Mai.

It’s funny, with all this “reality” filming as they call it, you realize that the stuff that will make the air, other than the competitions themselves, is about 95% scripted or created. That means that the 10 of us left are essentially actors, and not particularly good ones, especially at the end of a long day… but we’re actors who are having one helluva great time.

I’m on a reality TV show. I never thought I’d say that. I’m still trying to figure out how I got here.

After filming, we turned in our bunads, and had dinner and great desert. We toured room 17 – the room supposed haunted by the English Lady. I went for a walk alone by the water, and laid down by a bush, only to scare the hell out of Joni 15 minutes later when I heard her singing to herself and rose up. For the next hour I helped her recall all the information we’d received for the week in preparation for her competition tomorrow. Here’s hoping she’ll survive and make it another week!

As I write this, the Ballard Syttende Mai parade is likely in full swing. I can’t wait to trade stories when I get back.

*Fun fact that I learned today – this is the only day each year when kids are allowed to eat as much ice cream as they want! (Brita opened an ice cream tab for us in the afternoon!)