Celebrate Stoughton’s Norwegian Heritage

By Maura Keller | Photo courtesy Syttende Mai / Stoughton Chamber of Commerce

For a taste of Norwegian arts, culture and food, you don’t have to go far — visitors can experience it close to home in Stoughton. Historically speaking, Stoughton has been a hub of Norwegian activity since the first Norwegians settled in the area from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. At one point, the majority of the town’s residents spoke Norwegian. Thanks to their strong cultural influence, the Norwegian culture is alive and well in the town over a century later.

One of the Stoughton’s first festivals of the year, Syttende Mai, is held the weekend closest to May 17 (Norway’s Constitution Day). This year, the fest will take place on May 13-15. Celebrated each year since the 1950s, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get outdoors and learn more about the Norwegian heritage, enjoy Norwegian delicacies and enjoy Norwegian art and language.

Visitors to Syttende Mai can enjoy watching the Stoughton High School Norwegian Dancers, a group that performs four times throughout the weekend festival. Attendees can enjoy decadent cream puffs, lefse and cheese curds, and food sales benefit area nonprofits. Stoughton’s local eateries often feature Syttende Mai specials throughout the weekend as well.

While every day of the festival is filled with attractions aplenty, many locals revel in the Sunday parade, which features bands, local artilleries and the festival’s King and Queen — both current and past — who don the traditional Norwegian bunads.

Plan your visit at stoughtonfestivals.com

Treasuring a Traditional Art Form

It’s a long way from Stoughton to traditional Norwegian farmsteads, which boast hand-painted flowers, scrolling vines and delicate leaves on walls, ceilings and wooden décor pieces. But with paintbrush in hand, artists from the Wisconsin State Rosemaling Association as well as other community artists detail the resurgent Norwegian folk art of rosemaling onto pieces of art for all to enjoy.

Tracing back to Norway in the mid-18th century, this artistic process was introduced to the Stoughton
area by Norwegian immigrants over 100 years ago. In fact, Stoughton is considered to be the birthplace of rosemaling in North America. The rosemaling exhibit during the Syttende May festival (May 13-15) features items for sale as well as items on display to view. Local rosemaling artists will also be demonstrating the process of this beloved art form.

On May 14, visitors can also enjoy Norwegian cultural demonstrations including rosemaling, weaving, carving and embroidery at the Stoughton Opera House. stoughtonfestivals.com/arts


One key component of Stoughton’s Syttende Mai celebration involves athletic competitions, all taking place on May 14 this year. These traditional events include: The annual Strongman Competition, which is a U.S. Strongman-sanctioned event drawing participants from across the country.

The 50th Syttende Mai Classic 20-Mile Run from Madison to Stoughton is a favorite among runners. Top finishers receive unique hand-painted items in the Norwegian rosemaling style.

For those looking for a shorter run, check out the Syttende Mai Classic 10-Mile Run from the town of Dunn to Stoughton. Top finishers also win rosemaling.

Non-runners can enjoy the Syttende Mai Classic 17 Mile Walk from Madison to Stoughton, which is untimed. Or if a shorter distance is more your style, consider participating in the two-mile Lil’ Run, which is open to all ages.

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