The 17th of May is Norway’s Constitution Day, and there’s no way you will not notice it if you’re visiting the country! Whether in Oslo, Bergen, or the smallest village in the remotest valley, the whole country is partying from early morning to late at night.
On the 17th of May 1814, delegates from the whole of Norway signed the country’s first constitution at a secret meeting in the small village of Eidsvoll, north of the capital. After being part of the Danish kingdom for more than 400 years, they declared Norway an independent kingdom. Unfortunately, the king of that other neighbouring country, Sweden, didn’t agree. He invaded the country, and Norway had to wait another 90 years before it gained real independence, in 1905.
During the years under Swedish control, the 17th of May became an important day of protest for the Norwegians, and after independence it became the biggest national holiday it is today. Nowadays, it’s the values of the country that stand central: freedom, brotherhood and justice.
In the entire country, the people have similar routines to spend this national holiday. A lot of people start the day with a champagne breakfast, early in the morning. After that, people go to see the childrens’ parades organised by the schools (the so called barnetog). In contrary to many countries, Norway doesn’t have any military parades on its national day: in stead, they have childrens’ parades! In Oslo, the children of all the schools parade through Karl Johans gate and to the Royal Palace, where the king and the queen greet them from their balcony.
In all the towns and most of the villages, there are similar parades with children, brass bands and people. As you will notice, a lot of the people wear traditional clothing that day, called bunad. This costume is extremely important to Norwegians, they’re very proud of it and can recognise the region of origin just by looking at the way the costume is made. If you ask them about their bunad, they’ll be happy to talk about it (for at least half an hour or so).
The festivities continue the whole day. There’s music, in the villages people organise traditional games and often there’s fireworks in the evening.
In other words: if you happen to be in Norway on the 17th of May, you’ll get to see a unique side of Norwegian society. Make sure not to miss it!
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article by: Robin Van de Walle
photo top by: Harald Groven