Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood has long been a gathering place for Scandinavians, particularly Norwegians. Through the 1800’s, people in Norway heard about this place called America and how this spot on the west coast felt similar to their homeland, while also full of opportunity.
To this day, lots of fishing fleets are based in Ballard. The TV show, “The Deadliest Catch” brought it into our living rooms. The area became known as, “Snoose Junction.” The biggest party of the year is always “Seafoodfest”, with three days of bands, crafts and lots of seafood.
But this year is different, as you know. Seafoodfest has been officially scrapped for this year, while other traditions are being postponed with a hope of rescheduling. But there’s only one 17th of May and this year, the annual Syttende Mai parade through downtown Ballard was canceled.
For us, we had turned the celebration into a two-day affair, grabbing a room at the Hotel Ballard and living there for a couple of days. There was a big luncheon at noon, followed by assorted happy hours and then, the 17th of May Parade that marched down 24th, and made a left on Market Street. For the past 7 years, I’ve had the honor of announcing the parade from the official grandstand.
Again, this year was different and the parade, the luncheon, the singing at Bergen Place, all canceled. That meant a 130-year-old tradition was at risk. I mean, c’mon, they even marched over a century ago during the Spanish Flu outbreak. Of course, that could have been what fueled that Second Wave we keep hearing about.
One day, I thought, “What if a few of us got together, maintaining our social distance, and put on a Syttende Mai parade of our own?” I passed the idea along to a few members of the community and the next thing you know, we had a plan.
We had to walk a fine line because, in accordance with the Governor’s orders, there were to be no gatherings. The official parade organizers wanted nothing to do with this, because they didn’t want to risk losing their official Seafair-sanctioned status. So, we kept it to a handful of people, who dressed up and, at the exact time the big parade would have stepped off, we began down the route in our cars, wearing masks and honking our horns.
But rather than telling you, why don’t I show you exactly what happened.
The streak remained intact. The tradition continued.
And if even for a couple of hours on that pandemic Sunday afternoon, the spirit of Syttende Mai lived on.