Happy 17: Credits – wikicommons
Happy 17. of May Norway!: Take a look at one of the world’s most anticipated, traditional and joyful national days: the 17th of May in Norway. Why is it such a big deal throughout the country? What should you expect if you are visiting Norway at this time of year?
Norway’s national day is celebrated throughout the country on May 17th each year. It is a public holiday that is referred to by Norwegians as ‘syttende mai’ (May 17th), ‘nasjonaldagen’ (National Day) or ‘Grunnlovsdagen’ (Constitution day) even though the latter is slightly less frequent.
The day celebrates the independence of Norway from the Kingdom of Denmark when the Norwegian Kingdom signed the constitution of Norway on May 17th 1814. Norway wanted to avoid at all costs being ceded to Sweden again after the Danish-Norwegian alliance suffered a devastating defeat in the Napoleonic wars.
One thing about the 17th of May in Norway: it is a very big deal. Where some other countries just have a quick fireworks show at night or a military parade to celebrate their national day, Norwegian people always go all in for a day of festivities. The key parameters are quite simple: have a good time with family, neighbors and friends, eat lots of ice cream and hot dogs, parade in the streets, play games at local schools and attend many other public venues.
To start the party in the best way, Norwegians usually start with an early 17. Mai breakfast to be shared with friends, family and neighbors. The specialties are freshly baked bread (boller) with butter, jam, scrambled eggs or smoked salmon. It’s not rare that already by then, adults crack open a bottle of champagne to make the day more of a party.
In the course of the morning, many parades take place in the streets. Earlier during the day, children are very active and their parades also play a big role in the day’s activities. Clothed in their traditional suits (‘Bunad’), youngsters’ parade through the neighborhood behind marching bands to lead the way. This usually attracts many people who stand on the side watching them, waving Norwegian flags and shouting ‘Hurra! Hurra!’. In Oslo, the parade marches in front of the Royal Palace Balconies where members of the royal family tirelessly wave at it.
Later during the day, other praised festivities usually include listening to 17. Mai speeches, military or public parades with boats of cars, concerts, gatherings in cafés, restaurants or homes and even church services. The goal really is to make 17. Mai more of a joyful and entertaining party where families and friends mingle. A national hymn is usually sung around mid day throughout the country as well.
However it’s all about respecting the traditions. The first one, which is also what gives Constitution Day its worldwide reputation, is most definitely showing off your traditional costume. Also called ‘Bunad’, the outfit is worn by most men and women and bears the ancestral values of the area or customs it was made around.
The styles of bunads can vary greatly depending on the location. In women it almost always consists of a bright undergarment topped by a darker dress, skirt and/or button-up vest. They usually accommodate colorful sewn patterns and printed metallic buttons. Men’s traditional bunad consists of dark trousers, bright undergarment, long bright socks and button-up blazers.
May 17th wouldn’t be May 17th without the ‘Russ’ and their conspicuous parade. After spending 13 years in school, the graduates of the year put on traditional red and blue jumpsuits. Russ may participate in the day’s activities but they have their own agenda. They take on a day-long driving spree in large buses or vans equipped with banners, arranged dancefloors and loud sound systems. They may make stops at some of the participant’s houses along the way to refill food and alcohol. If you see them, they may invite you to play along and dance with them for a short while. They might also give you their ‘Russkort’, a card with personal information but also more or less funny jokes on it.
If you happen to be in Norway on May 17th, don’t get scared by the extravagance of the festivities. Norwegian people are usually very happy to share their traditions and might likely invite you to participate in some events. However it may be useful to remember that most stores and grocery shops are closed as it is a holiday. Also, no driving will be allowed in the center of most major cities as the streets will be cleared and barricaded for the parades.
Unfortunately this year, the parades in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim have been cancelled due to the corona situation. Local authorities have also cancelled moderate size gatherings to limit the spread of the virus. A lot of the festivities will be held in private homes and many Norwegians will have to respect the measures and recommendations set by the governments. However that is far from killing the mood and the party will surely go on.
Happy 17. Mai Norway!