Norwegian Culture

The annual Syttende Mai Stoughton festival is the best place to experience Norwegian culture in Wisconsin. If you’re a music lover, you’ll enjoy the Edvard Greig Men’s Chorus and the haunting Hardanger fiddle performances. Like art? There’s plenty to see at the art exhibits and to buy at the arts and crafts fair. Visitors can even see the artists at work when they demonstrate the rosemaling painting techniques and Hardanger embroidery methods. You’ll see acanthus wood carving, eat authentic Norwegian food and even see the heritage dog, chicken and horse breeds that are still popular in Stoughton, WI.

The following events are located at different locations throughout the festival!

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For over 90 years, Madison’s Edvard Grieg men’s chorus has performed Norwegian, spiritual and secular songs for the public. The choir is named for one of Norway’s most famous concert pianists and composers. Grieg’s Romantic-era music borrowed from Norway’s traditional folk music themes and gave the country a national music identity. Modern listeners know Grieg’s work from television, video games and movie scores. The men’s chorus performs annually at the Syttende Mai festival.

Stoughton Opera House ∙ Saturday, 11:30am

Covenant Lutheran Church ∙ Sunday, 9:30am

Christ Lutheran Church ∙ Sunday, 10:30am

What is a bunad?

 [²bʉːnɑd], plural: bunader/bunadar) is a Norwegian umbrella term encompassing, in its broadest sense, a range of both traditional rural clothes (mostly dating to the 19th and 18th centuries) as well as modern 20th-century folk costumes. They may be elaborate with embroidery or use expensive fabrics such as damask or brocade. In Norway today, bunads are worn by both men and women for special occasions such as confirmations, weddings, and of course on Syttende Mai

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Stoughton’s 46th annual bunad style show is an opportunity to see these beautiful costumes including bunad jewelry called “sølje” up close, and hear about how and when it was designed in each region of Norway. More importantly the story of each model’s bunad is told and why it is so cherished and passed down to future generations. 

First Lutheran Church ∙ Saturday, 2:30pm

Norwegian Buhund Dogs
Traveling with the Vikings by land and sea, the Norsk Buhund has been used as a herding and watch dog for over 1,000 years. Stop by and learn more about this energetic and lovable breed!

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The name Buhund is derived from the Norwegian word ‘bu’ which means farm, homestead or mountain hut, where the shepherd lived while looking after his herd in the summer and ‘hund’ which means dog. The Buhund was used as an all-purpose farm and herding dog, as well as a watch dog. The Buhund is still used for their original purpose in Norway and can often be seen on remote farms. The modern Buhund that we see today was developed on the western coastlands of Norway. Learn more about these wonderful animals.

River Bluff Middle School ∙ Saturday, 10am - 12pm and 2pm - 4pm

Norsk Jærhøn Chicken
The Norsk Jærhøn is considered the only indigenous breed of domestic chicken in Norway. They are named for the district of Jæren in Rogaland county, in the Stavanger region. They were a principle breed of chicken in Norway until imported foreign breeds became more popular in the nineteenth century. The Jærhøns were selectively bred at a state-controlled facility in Jæren from 1916 to 1973 in order to preserve and further the breed. They have been listed as a “conservation-worthy national breed” by the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute. 

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There are two recognized color varieties, dark and light. The comb is single and the legs and beak are bright yellow. They weight between 3 and 5 pounds and are prolific layers of large, white eggs. Jærhøns are an active breed and excellent foragers, with a generally friendly and intelligent temperament. They rarely go broody. 

Jærhøns were first imported to the United States in the mid-1990’s by Dr. Bjorn Netland and are uncommonly seen. 

 River Bluff Middle School ∙ Saturday, 10am - 12pm and 2pm - 4pm

Fjord Horses –

Sunday 9am-4pm, River Bluff Grounds. 

The first Fjord Horses arrived in North America in 1888, and a century later the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry was established in 1981 to maintain the genetic purity of the breed. Only purebred Norwegian Fjord Horses that have proven Norwegian Fjord Horse parentage can be registered. DNA typing is required for all fjords presented for registration to validate parentage.  There are over 7,500 Norwegian Fjord Horses registered with the registry today; with the greatest number of registered fjords residing in Wisconsin, Washington and Minnesota.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse has a strong, arched neck, sturdy legs, solid feet, and a compact, muscular body. The head is medium sized and well defined with a broad, flat forehead and slightly dished face, small ears and large eyes.  The breed's conformation is a blend of draft horse muscling and bone, but with a smaller size and greater agility. The Fjord Horse usually ranges in height from 13.1 to 14.3 hands, and normally weighs between 800 and 1,100 pounds. The mane is clipped in a distinctive crescent shape so that it stands up straight and emphasizes the dorsal stripe that runs from forelock to tail. All Fjord horses are Dun in color with dark points and horizontal stripes on the back of the forelegs.

The public is invited to attend the Sunday worship service at Christ Lutheran Church. Listen to the sounds of Norway while the celebrant sings part of the traditional Norwegian liturgy. The Edvard Grieg men’s chorus of Madison will also sing as part of the Sunday celebration. 

The service ends with the singing of one of Norway’s patriotic songs “Ja,Vi Elsker Dette Landet,” or “Yes, we love this land,” also known as “Song for Norway.”

After the service, the church will serve a lunch with meatballs, herring, cucumber salad, red cabbage, Swedish rye bread, fruit salad, rømmegrøt (pudding), rice pudding, kringle (filled pastry), krumkake (waffle cookie), lefse (flatbread), coffee and still more Norwegian goodies.

There is no admission fee, but goodwill donations are welcome. For those visiting for the weekend, it is a great place to relax before the parade.

Sunday, 10:30am

The Norwegian Heritage Center, also known as Livsreise- Meaning “Life’s Journey,” in downtown Stoughton with its new Scandinavian inspired building, opened its doors in May of 2015. This idea for this center was conceived of and is sponsored by the Edwin and Janet Bryant Foundation of Stoughton.

Its purpose is to tell the Norwegian immigration story between 1825-1910.  The Norwegian Heritage Center includes the following elements:

©The Kubala Washatko Architects Photo

©The Kubala Washatko Architects Photo

  • Interactive map highlighting Norway’s Districts

  • Large Gallery area with 19th century immigrant artifacts, many with ties to local families

  • Interactive electronic story books with personal stories of early local area Norwegian families

  • Photography Exhibit titled “Rocks and Hard Places: Through the Lens of Knudsen.”  Knud Knudsen (1832-1915) was an early studio photographer in Bergen and the first photographer in Norway to travel extensively around the country. Knudsen captured glimpses of everyday life, special occasions, landscapes, and people in his detailed and dramatic black and white images. This exhibit is presented by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, and features 26 large-format photographs enlarged from Knudsen’s original negatives.

  • An auditorium where videos pertaining to the immigrant experience can be viewed. It is also used for live events, such as educational speakers.

  • A Genealogy lab allowing guests to work on their family history. This is linked to the Norwegian –American Genealogical Center in Madison and gives access to their vast data base. Other links such as the Digital Achieves of Norway and immigrant ship information is available to all guests.*

*Note: Jerry Paulson, from the Norwegian American Genealogy Center and Naeseth Library in Madison, will be present in the Genealogy Lab from 10a-3p on Saturday, May 18th. The lab will otherwise be closed outside of this special presentation for the weekend.

Exhibits are updated and new information is added on a regular basis so once you visit you will want to return!

Join the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge for a night of bingo, Norwegian style. Food is served at 5 p.m. and again during the bingo break. Players can expect an evening of fun and cash prizes.

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The Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge is one of 380 lodges across North America and Norway that belong to the Sons of Norway international fraternal benefit society. The society’s mission is to promote Norwegian heritage, culture and traditions and its worldwide membership is over 58,000 people. Anyone who is interested in Norway, its people and its culture is welcome to join the society, attend meetings or participate in its events.

Over 90 years ago, Stoughton’s Mandt Lodge (#314) was established and it is still an active organization today. The lodge hosts many cultural and community events including rosemaling classes, a Spring Fish Boil and bingo nights, like the one held during the Syttende Mai festival. Visit the Sons of Norway-Mandt Lodge Facebook page for more group and event information.


A state-wide celebration of Syttende Mai begins at 12 p.m. on Wed. May 15 at the Capitol building in Madison.

Rep. Hebl will read the Wisconsin State Legislature's joint resolution  proclaiming the weekend of May 17, 18, and 19, 2019 to be Syttende Mai Weekend in the state of Wisconsin. All residents of the state are honorary Norwegians for the weekend and are urged to observe Syttende Mai with appropriate celebrations!

After the reading of the Proclamation, our own Norwegian Dancers will perform outdoors at the Capitol. 

Syttende Mai festival goers will want to watch one of the weekend’s traditional Norwegian dance performances from the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers. For over 60 years, the high school dance group has been pleasing audiences with their lively and athletic performances and beautiful bunad costumes. The group has pairs of male and female dancers as well as musicians who play the folk dance music.

Norwegian Dance group membership is limited to Stoughton Area High School students. Many students audition for the limited number of openings each year, but the selection criteria rigorous. Being a part of this group is both an honor and a time commitment, but students who participate often travel across the nation to perform. The Norwegian Dancers’ lively and authentic performances are one of the cultural highlights of the Syttende Mai festival, so be sure to catch them during the three-day event.

Saturday Performances

2:00pm Under the Festival Tent on Division Street
3:45pm at the Community Building
5:30pm Alumni Performance at the Community Building

Sunday Performance

3:45pm The Community Building, following the parade.

This will be the final performance of the 2018-19 Stoughton Norwegian Dancers! 

Meet today’s artisans, crafters, and musicians who are preserving traditional Scandinavian art for the next generation. This event is designed to bring you up close with artists in a setting where you can ask questions and learn more about what they do. You’ll see acanthus carving, Hardanger fiddle playing, weaving, modern knitting, and more.

Saturday ∙ 9am - 4pm

Coffee and pastries will be for sale at the Chorus Cafe.

A Booster Button is required for entry and may be purchased at the door.

  • Hardanger Embroidery Demonstration

  • Lefse Making

  • Krokbragd Weaving Demonstration

  • Celtic & Viking Knotwork

  • Norwegian Knitting and Hand-Stitching

  • Sami Bracelet Making Demonstration

  • Osberg Wagon Replica

Music at the Chorus Public House

This group of musicians play the Hardanger fiddle, Norway’s national instrument. Strung with eight or nine strings instead of a violin’s usual four strings, the richly decorated Hardanger fiddle has a haunting, resonant quality. Film goers might recognize its sound from the movie Fargo’s main theme or from the Lord of the Rings movies’ soundtracks.

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In Stoughton, Fykerud’n Spelemannslag keeps this traditional instrument and its melodies alive. The gr oup takes its name from 20th century Norwegian immigrant brothers Lars and Hans Fykerud, who popularized the instrument when they toured the U.S. Before the brothers returned to their homeland, they settled in Stoughton and established the instrument and its music in the Norwegian community. A spelemannslag is the Norwegian term for a group of fiddlers, who usually play and pass down folk music by ear, from one generation to the next.

Fykerud’n Spelemannslag has played at Stoughton’s Syttende Mai since 2009. Group membership is free and open to fiddlers of any experience.

Saturday ∙ 10am - 1pm

Rhapsody Arts Center’s Fiddle Club

Charlene Adzima of Rhapsody Arts Center's Fiddle Club plays an eclectic mix of folk tunes from various traditions. Saturday they are excited to show off their Scandinavian repertoire

Saturday ∙ 1:30 - 2:00

Lead by a Hardanger fiddlerer, this Milwaukee-based band plays traditional old-time music from the Upper-Midwest, including Norwegian, Irish, Anglo-American, and French Canadian fiddle tunes, lumberjack songs, Czech and German polkas, and more.

Sample their sound before the festival!

Saturday ∙ 2:30 - 4pm