Norwegians celebrate “Syttende Mai” National Day in Pattaya


Norwegians around the world come together to celebrate the Norwegian National Day on the 17th of May. This vibrant occasion is not limited to Norway alone; it is joyously observed by Norwegians wherever they may be. In the lively city of Pattaya, numerous restaurants and bars warmly extend their invitations for these festive commemorations.

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In 2005, the Sjømannskirken, the Norwegian Seaman’s Church, made a significant move from Bangkok to Pattaya. Since 2006, the church has upheld the cherished tradition of organizing a grand celebration on the 17th of May. This event has swiftly become one of the most eagerly anticipated gatherings in the church community, rivaling the excitement of Christmas Eve and the attendance of various concerts during the peak season.

As the parade commenced its journey, departing from the church, an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation filled the air. The vibrant procession, led by enthusiastic participants, set off on its path through the bustling streets. The community members, adorned in traditional attire and carrying flags and banners, proudly showcased their Norwegian heritage.

The Minister of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church embraced the festive spirit by adorning herself in a traditional “bunad” from Eastern Telemark. However, with the sweltering weather in Thailand, the Minister sought relief and found an amusing solution. She hopped on the waffle motorbike, skillfully driven by Christer Lielienberg, a dedicated employee at the Church with a passion for diaconal work. Together, they embarked on a whimsical ride, blending tradition and creativity in a delightful display of Norwegian culture in the heart of Pattaya.

The local police took great care in managing the parade on Thappraya Road. With utmost dedication, they ensured the smooth and orderly progression of the event. Their presence and vigilance provided a sense of security and reassurance to all participants and onlookers. Through their diligent efforts, the parade on Thappraya Road became a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

At the tail end of the parade, Roger Bonsaksen, a dedicated volunteer at the church, marched alongside his family. Recognizing their important role in the event, the police ensured their safe return to the church. With genuine care and attention, the police escorted them, prioritizing their well-being. Upon reaching the church, a warm welcome awaited them, with fragrant coffee and delectable cakes prepared to express gratitude for their participation. The thoughtful gesture exemplified the spirit of community and camaraderie that permeated the Norwegian National Day celebrations.

The 17th of May marks Norway’s Constitution Day, a significant historical event that occurred in 1814 when the constitution was signed in Eidsvoll. The day has been commemorated with spontaneous celebrations ever since. However, it was not until 1864, in the former capital of Christiania (now Oslo), that the first children’s parade was launched, becoming a cherished tradition. Today, parades featuring predominantly children can be witnessed across Norway.

In Pattaya, a vibrant city known for its diverse community, a spirited parade unfolded on this special day. Although the number of participating children was relatively small, the event attracted a multitude of Norwegian tourists, expats, and Thai locals, who united under the scorching Thai weather to commemorate the occasion. The parade commenced from the Church located in Soi 7, winding its way up to Thappraya Road, down Soi 19, and finally returning to the Church.

Amidst cheers and applause, Norwegian and Thai flags fluttered in unison as the parade progressed. The uplifting atmosphere was enhanced by the lively strains of traditional 17th of May music, amplified through large speakers mounted on a pickup truck.

Despite the heat, the collective enthusiasm and camaraderie prevailed, creating a shared sense of pride and celebration. The fusion of cultures and the joyous display of national spirit made the Pattaya parade a memorable testament to the enduring bond between Norway and Thailand on this significant day.

Preceding the parade, Minister Helle Maria Wolstad, from the Norwegian Seaman’s Church, commenced the day with a traditional service filled with psalms and prayers, expressing gratitude for the country. However, she emphasized that the significance of the 17th of May extends beyond simply praising one nation. While it holds immense importance for Norway and its people, it serves as a reminder to look beyond borders and embrace our interconnectedness with the wider world.

Minister Wolstad underscored that just as individuals rely on each other, so do nations. As we express gratitude for our own country, we must not forget that we are part of a global community. This day serves as an opportunity to acknowledge our privileges and responsibilities as citizens of the world. It compels us to care for one another as fellow human beings and protect the natural world that sustains us all.

The minister’s words resonated with the congregation, emphasizing the shared responsibility we have towards each other and the planet. She reminded everyone of the beauty of diversity, highlighting the invaluable contributions that each nation brings when recognized and valued by others.

The service set a powerful tone for the day’s celebrations, inspiring attendees to reflect on their role in fostering a more inclusive, interconnected, and sustainable world. It served as a reminder that while celebrating our own nation, we must embrace the collective responsibility to promote harmony, understanding, and cooperation among all nations.

Following the service, a delightful traditional Norwegian breakfast was served, fortifying everyone for the upcoming parade. The buffet spread encompassed a range of beloved Norwegian favorites, ensuring a satisfying start to the day. However, there was a mild complaint circulating among attendees, myself included, about the presence of Swedish caviar Kalles instead of the familiar Norwegian Mills brand. Fortunately, as the Norwegian company Orkla owns Kalles Caviar, any potential uproar was averted. Nonetheless, the highlight of the breakfast spread was undoubtedly the Norwegian smoked salmon, capturing the attention and appetites of all with its rich and distinctive flavors.

The dedicated kitchen staff was recognized and applauded for their exceptional efforts in preparing the delicious breakfast. As they were presented to the attendees, a wave of appreciation and gratitude swept through the room. The resounding applause served as a heartfelt expression of gratitude for their hard work and culinary skills, which had contributed to the delightful spread enjoyed by all. The recognition bestowed upon the kitchen staff further highlighted the spirit of community and camaraderie that permeated the Norwegian National Day celebrations.

Live Marie Hafredal Lilienberg, a dedicated diaconal employee, took a special moment during the festivities to honor Jansila Nyvoll, the esteemed kitchen manager, for her remarkable ten-year tenure at the church in Pattaya. With gratitude and admiration, Live Marie presented Jansila with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, symbolizing appreciation for her unwavering commitment and invaluable contributions to the church community. The heartfelt gesture acknowledged Jansila’s significant role in ensuring the success of countless events and culinary delights enjoyed by all. The applause that followed further underscored the collective gratitude and respect for Jansila’s dedicated service.

Janisla Nyvoll, the esteemed kitchen manager, and Hans Konrad Nyvoll, a dedicated diaconal employee, have collectively dedicated over 27 years of their lives in service to the Church in Pattaya. Their unwavering commitment and tireless efforts have left an indelible impact on the church community and beyond. Through their shared years of service, Janisla and Hans Konrad have become pillars of support, ensuring the smooth functioning of various events and providing care to those in need. Their remarkable longevity in their roles stands as a testament to their passion, dedication, and unwavering commitment to the church and its mission. The congregation, grateful for their enduring service, expressed their deep appreciation for Janisla and Hans Konrad’s invaluable contributions and exemplary dedication.

The kitchen staff and their dedicated helpers were joyously recognized and met with resounding applause for their exceptional work not just on that day, but consistently throughout their tenure. Their commitment to ensuring a memorable and delightful experience for all attendees was met with deep appreciation from the congregation. Among them, Jansila Nyvoll, the esteemed kitchen manager, was honored for her remarkable ten-year tenure at the seaman’s Church with a bouquet of flowers, symbolizing gratitude for her outstanding contributions.

As the atmosphere filled with a sense of national pride, the congregation joined together to sing the Norwegian National Anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (“Yes, we love this country”). This beloved anthem, encompassing eight verses, was passionately rendered, with attendees standing in reverence. Although only the first verse and the final two verses were sung, the familiarity and heartfelt connection to the anthem resonated deeply within the hearts of all those present. This cherished anthem holds a special place in the hearts of Norwegians, with its words known by most as a testament to their deep love and devotion to their homeland.

Terje Hærås, a dedicated volunteer pastor at the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in Pattaya, stepped forward to deliver the highly anticipated speech of the day. With genuine warmth and a deep sense of connection to the congregation, Terje addressed the gathering, sharing heartfelt words that resonated with the attendees.

His speech encapsulated the spirit of the Norwegian National Day, emphasizing the importance of unity, gratitude, and embracing diversity. Terje’s eloquence and passion captivated the audience, fostering a sense of reflection and inspiration.

Drawing from personal experiences and the collective history of the church, he spoke about the significance of community, both within the church and the broader context of the global family. He highlighted the value of cherishing one another as fellow human beings and the shared responsibility of caring for the natural world that sustains us all.

Terje’s speech served as a call to action, encouraging everyone to recognize the inherent worth and contributions of each individual, regardless of nationality or background. His words left a lasting impact, igniting a collective desire to foster understanding, compassion, and unity.

The congregation listened intently, applauding Terje’s poignant message, appreciating his dedication to delivering a speech that resonated with the core values of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church and the essence of the Norwegian National Day.

Volunteer Pastor Terje Hærås Speech

“Congratulations on the day, dear fellow citizens. No other day of the year is Norway characterized by such strong traditions as May 17th. It is the day when we mostly know what we are going to do from early morning until late at night. We celebrate and commemorate with flag hoisting, children’s parades, radio and TV broadcasts, May 17th breakfasts, school events, traditional dinners, friends and family gathering for festivities.

For me, it is the first time I celebrate May 17th outside Norway’s borders. It will be a new experience and something to cherish.

“As Stevie Wonder sings, ‘Signed, sealed, delivered’ – and yes, that is exactly what the 112 men of the Eidsvoll assembly did. They signed, sealed it with ‘united and faithful until the mountains of Dovre crumble,’ and delivered to us the constitution as the cornerstone of our free, democratic country – even though it took some years before we fully reached the point where the Eidsvoll men believed we should be as a democratic nation. The ban on Jews was lifted in 1851, the ban on religious orders in 1897, and Jesuits were allowed into Norway only in 1956. It was in 1913 that women gained the right to vote, and in 1972, it became legal to be homosexual in Norway.

This day means so much to us! Perhaps it means even more now than before. The day is simply a declaration of love for our foremost ideals: democracy, freedom of speech, peace, liberty, and equality. We celebrate the national day with reverence and gratitude to those who fought for Norway’s freedom.

Freedom is something we can easily take for granted because we are so accustomed to it. That’s just how Norway is. We can forget that while Norway is in a state of massive celebration, there are many, far too many, who are fighting a life-and-death battle to prevent these values we celebrate from being taken away from them.

A few years ago, we might not have posed this question: Why democracy? In 1941, George Orwell wrote that one of the easiest pastimes in the world is to denounce democracy. Orwell was in the midst of a struggle for civilization. Finding faults with this somewhat tired and at times trivial form of governance is easy. Democracy is an everyday affair. It involves compromises and often protracted decision-making processes.

We now live in a world where, for the first time in decades, it is necessary to remember the reasons why the legacy of 1814 and our constitution, with its democratic form of government, has advantages that other forms of governance lack.

Over two-thirds of the world’s population now live under authoritarian regimes or democracies in decline.

Why is democracy worth defending in today’s world? I could use many weighty and lengthy arguments to justify it. I will spare you that. The simple answer is: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There are plenty of examples of this. Democracy is the form of governance that can best restrain abuse of power and, through elections, stop authoritarian leaders. Democracy, also known as popular rule, is a form of governance where the people have direct or indirect influence on the decisions that are made. Therefore, the key characteristics of a democracy are free elections, majority rule, the right to dissent from the majority, and the protection of individual rights.

This must be defended; it is worth fighting for. It is under pressure, but it is too precious to be lost.

In the Danish hymn known by priest Richard: “Always bold as you go,” we sing: Fight for everything you hold dear, even if it means death! Nothing less, but also nothing more.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If I/we cannot do great things, I/we can do small things in a great way.” That is why we celebrate May 17th in Pattaya.

We must remind each other of this precisely because May 17th is the day of grand words, long parades, the largest flags, magnificent celebrations, and wonderful experiences. But also the most important battles.

Let us cheer three times three hoorays for Norway and democracy, in gratitude for those who fought for it.”

Pastor Helle Maria Wolstad took a moment to introduce the talented musicians Øystein Heggstad on piano and Tom Berg on saxophone. Their musical prowess filled the air with captivating melodies, creating an enchanting atmosphere for all in attendance. The audience was entranced by the harmonious sounds and skillful performance of the musicians.

As the concert reached its crescendo, the crowd joined in unison to sing “Barnedomsminne frå Nordland” or “Å eg veit meg eit land langt der oppe i nord” (“I know of a land far up there in the north”). This beloved song evoked nostalgic memories and a deep connection to the rugged beauty and allure of the northern lands. The heartfelt lyrics and melodic harmonies resonated within the hearts of everyone, creating a powerful moment of unity and shared cultural appreciation.

The concert, enhanced by the musicians’ exceptional talent, concluded on a high note, leaving a lasting impression and a sense of joy and togetherness among the attendees. The combined efforts of Pastor Helle Maria Wolstad, Øystein Heggstad, and Tom Berg had created a truly memorable and enriching musical experience that encapsulated the spirit of the Norwegian National Day.

Following the vibrant parade, inspiring speeches, and captivating concert, it was finally time for the cherished tradition of indulging in coffee and cakes, an essential part of the 17th of May celebration. The spread of delectable cakes presented an array of flavors and tempting treats that surpassed any previous recollection. It was a feast for the senses, with each cake carefully crafted and lovingly prepared.

However, as attendees eagerly approached the table, a slight challenge arose – the plates provided were unexpectedly small. In an attempt to savor a variety of cakes, some individuals, myself included, resorted to carrying two plates. Alas, our efforts to navigate the situation discreetly were soon discovered, catching us in the act.

Nevertheless, the momentary amusement only added to the jovial atmosphere, as laughter and good-natured banter filled the air. It served as a reminder of the communal spirit and shared experiences that make such celebrations truly memorable. Despite the plate size hiccup, the enjoyment of the delectable cakes remained unabated, with everyone relishing the flavors and textures that adorned the table.

As the festivities continued, conversations and laughter intermingled with bites of scrumptious cake, creating a convivial atmosphere where stories were shared and connections were forged. The coffee and cakes segment provided a delightful opportunity for attendees to unwind, savor the moment, and bask in the joyous camaraderie that epitomized the Norwegian National Day celebrations in Pattaya.

The atmosphere was filled with delight as everyone savored the coffee and cakes, relishing the flavors and the camaraderie that enveloped the gathering. Following this sweet indulgence, it was time for another cherished tradition of the 17th of May: hot dogs, ice cream, and games.

In particular, the younger attendees reveled in a friendly competition to see who could consume the most ice creams throughout the day. However, as the day progressed, it became apparent that indulging in excessive amounts of ice cream could lead to some discomfort. Stomachaches were not uncommon for the enthusiastic participants who aimed for the coveted title of the day’s ice cream-eating champion.

After the cake feast, many, including myself, found themselves satiated and unable to partake in the hot dogs and ice cream offerings available from the waffle motorbike. The abundance of earlier treats had left little room for further indulgence.

As the day carried on, the anticipated Tug of Wars event, a traditional highlight, unfortunately had to be canceled due to the scorching heat and concerns about the well-being of participants. The church community, with many regular visitors who may not be as young as they once were, prioritized everyone’s health and safety.

In reflecting on the day’s events, Pastor Helle Maria Wolstad summarized the celebration with great satisfaction. She expressed joy and gratitude for the successful gathering, with a total of 173 individuals partaking in the festivities. The combination of uplifting music, delectable food, and the unity of Norwegians and Thai revelers contributed to the overall sense of joy and contentment that permeated the event. The day had been a testament to the power of togetherness, celebrating cultural diversity, and creating cherished memories for all who attended.

The church thrives with the active participation of both its dedicated staff and a team of local Norwegian volunteers. These selfless volunteers play a vital role in the day-to-day operations, generously contributing their time and effort. They engage in a multitude of tasks, such as warmly greeting and welcoming visitors at the church entrance, diligently ensuring that tables are kept clean and orderly, engaging in friendly conversations with guests, and providing valuable advice and guidance to newcomers. Their invaluable contributions create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere within the church, enriching the experience for all who enter its doors.