Hanska celebrates Norwegian heritage at Syttende Mai

HANSKA – Two hundred years ago on May 17, 1814 Norway signed its constitution giving the country independence from Denmark. Although it would not be until 1905 that Norway received full independence, May 17 stuck as one of the official day of celebration, which is known as Syttende Mai.

Because many Hanska residents trace their ancestors back to Norway, they feel it is important to honor the occasion with a community celebration.

Syttende Mai kicked off on Friday with a stage show at the Hanska Community Center. The events continued on Saturday with a 5K Walk/Run. The festival concluded Sunday with a classic car show, flea market craft show and parade. Those worried about missing Sunday church could take part in a worship service in the park held by the Prairie Land Lutheran Parish. Parishioners met under a tent in the park and sat in lawn chairs while singing Norwegian-themed hymns.

While the National Guard provided an inflatable obstacle course to occupy children, the youngsters also flocked around Paul “The Gooseman” Messerschmidt, who has been raising and training geese for the last nine years. Messerschmidt trained the geese to follow him and proves endlessly entertaining for the children. A flock of one week-old geese even followed him in the parade.

The Syttende Mai parade provides the biggest attraction, with most of the town in attendance. Parade entries included floats from Sleepy Eye and New Ulm.

For many local politicians, Hanska’s Syttende Mai festival is a popular campaign stop. State Rep. Paul Torkelson, who lives in rural Hanska, was excited to have the chance to attend Syttende Mai thanks to an early close to 2014 Legislative Session. Torkelson could not attend the 2013 festival because the session had not concluded.

Hanska began celebrating Syttende Mai as a chance for those with Norwegian heritage to embrace their past and reminisce of the homeland. As new generations have been born, the overall goal has become the preservation a unique Norwegian culture.

Anyone who has sampled lefse at the food stand understands it is a culture worth saving.

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