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Nils Thorsheim of Oslo, Norway,  left, was so impressed by a visit to Milan during its Syttende Mai celebration that he donated $5,000 for the community to purchase three defibrillators. Thorsheim and his friend Maud are shown. (Submitted photo)
Nils Thorsheim of Oslo, Norway, left, was so impressed by a visit to Milan during its Syttende Mai celebration that he donated $5,000 for the community to purchase three defibrillators. Thorsheim and his friend Maud are shown. (Submitted photo)

Milan adds new 'flavors' to Syttende Mai

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extra Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

One of the area's best-known Syttende Mai celebrations is taking on new flavors, but don't worry, all the original ones are back too.

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Milan's Syttende Mai celebration next Saturday, May 16 will continue its popular "Smorgaas Tea.'' Traditional Norwegian foods and delicacies like lefse and Rommegrot, Kransekaka, Riskem with Rod Saus, Smultringer and Goro will be there for the enjoying.

But the celebration also offers a wonderful opportunity to sample authentic tamales, served up by the community's Hispanic residents. The tamales proved to be a "really big hit" last year, according to those planning this year's event.

The town's Latinos aren't the only non-Scandinavian participants in this big celebration. Roughly one-third of the small town's population is from Micronesia, and the Pacific islanders will again celebrate their role in the community by joining the famous "Uff da'' parade on Main Street.

"By celebrating one heritage we're really celebrating everybody's,'' said Marlys Kvistero of Milan, explaining how the town is embracing its growing diversity. "Everybody becomes Norwegian for the day,'' she said.

Some traditions do not change. The responsibility for preparing the Norwegian delicacies remains entrusted only to authentic church basement ladies from the Kviteseid Lutheran Church, where the food is served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"The cooks we have are really good cooks,'' said Kvistero, who is responsible for the popular Smorgaas Tea.

The annual feast of Norwegian fare is one of the biggest attractions to the town's Syttende Mai celebration, which sees visitors from all over the region and beyond.

The day's activities begin with a Norwegian Church Service at 9:30 a.m. at the Kviteseid Lutheran Church.

Kvistero said many who come to Milan for the day do so to celebrate their Norwegian heritage: They enjoy the chance to once again taste the dishes they remember from special occasions as children, or in many cases, want to introduce their children or grandchildren to them.

Many others come to the celebration to dance around the Maypole, play a saxophone on Main Street as part of the "Mud Boots Crew'' band, watch the Leikarring Scandinavian folk dancing group from Dassel or listen to the music of the Finsaas Family Fiddlers from New London.

Yes, Syttende Mai is that kind of a celebration today in Milan, said members of the committee planning this year's event. It's a celebration of heritage, diversity, and just old-fashioned, small town fun. Many former Milan residents make this the time to come home and renew old acquaintances, noted Ann Thompson, one of the event's organizers.

Milan started its celebration of Norway's constitution day in 1934 with what it called "Lefse Days.'' The event was continued for a number of years, dropped, and later revived again as a Syttende Mai celebration by the Milan Women's Club.

Today, the Milan MOVERS (Multiple Options for Visionaries Enhancing and Reforming Society) spearheads the event. It's once again a big event, and not just because the town makes a point of celebrating its changing population.

The Chippewa County community of just over 320 people has established itself as a center for the arts, thanks to the Milan Village Arts School and local artists such as renowned rosemaler Karen Jensen. The day's events will include demonstrations of traditional Norwegian arts and crafts, including a display of Nancy Schneck's rosemaling collection. The husband and wife duo of Tom and Dorothy Johnson are featured artists this year; he for silversmithing and she for rosemaling.

Milan also prides itself on having a strong sense of community and a family friendly environment, and those attributes shaped the planning for this year's celebration. There are events through the day designed for children, starting with a scavenger hunt, and including the Maypole dances.

The culminating event is the Uff da parade at 1:30. It will feature 75 to 80 units, and many will be in competition for prizes in classes, including the biggest Uff da, community pride and most original.

A Taste of Syttende Mai celebration schedule

Saturday, May 16

9:30 a.m. Norwegian Church Service with Peter Doley at Kviteseid Lutheran Church

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Smorgaas Tea of Norwegian foods at Kviteseid Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Events for children: Maypole dance, scavenger hunt downtown, and art with watercolor artist Jill Blom of Milan

9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Rosemaling display at the Milan Village Arts School including Nancy Schneck's collection, rosemaling by Dorothy Johnson; silversmithing by Tom Johnson

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Musicians and dancers including the Finsaas Family Fiddlers of New London, Doug and Emily Wright of Montevideo and the Leikarring folk dancers

10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Street vendors and local specialties: The Moore Café will be serving its famous potato Klub with meatballs while street vendors will offer a variety of foods, including authentic tamales.

1 p.m. Program and presentation of Milan Citizenship Award downtown

1:30 p.m. Uff da parade

Enjoy fresh pie at the American Legion Club after the parade.

Free, handicap accessible transportation on the TRAM available throughout the day.

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