Syttende mai or the seventeenth of May is Norway's constitution day. Expect parades, ice cream, music, singing, and lots and lots of flag waving. Hipp Hipp Hurra!
Norway's National Day remembers the signing of the constitution at Eidsvoll on 17 May, 1814. It was at the time considered to be one of the most liberal constitutions in the world due to its radical democratic nature. It's also the second oldest single document national constitution in Europe, after Poland.
The 17th of May – known as syttende mai in Norwegian – is a public holiday in Norway. While you're free to do with the day as you wish, there's a very strong traditional itinerary to follow, especially if you have kids. Join me as we take a journey through Norway's constitution day celebrations!
The day starts for the adults by putting out the flag on your balcony or in your garden, followed up with enjoying a champagne breakfast. I like to watch NRK for an hour or so as their coverage of the day zips around the country to show snippets of what's happening and where. Then starts the big rush to the town centres!
As you can see, the bunad is the typical dress for the occasion, but any formal wear will do. Jeans and a t-shirt are rare sights on the 17th of May! The weather can also be anything from bright sunshine to rainstorms, and some parts of Norway even get a dusting of snow on the national day.
The children's parade
The highlight of the day for many is the children's parade. Made up of groups of children from many of the local schools, the parade typically consists of the school marching band (corps) followed by energetic flag-waving kids marching behind. There's usually a large banner to signify each school. It reminds me of the Olympics opening ceremony!
The parade is usually held mid-morning and depending on the size of the town, it can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours!
All around the country…
While the pictures above show the parades in the big cities, even the smallest communities in Norway put on parades. People have differing traditions in some parts of the country, but one thing is constant and that's the parades.
…and all around the world!
Norway's syttende mai celebrations don't just take place within the country. Millions of Americans claim Norwegian ancestry from mass immigration 100-150 years ago, and they celebrate the day too. Here's a picture from the 1975 parade in Seattle, followed by a more recent shot from the annual parade in Southwark Park, London.
If marching band music isn't your thing, there's usually plenty more to be found. In the larger cities, choirs and other performers can be found dotted around the city. Sometimes there are even smaller festivals put on with more contemporary music. This photo was from a free music festival in an Oslo suburb a few years ago.
The people's parade
Once the children's parades are done and dusted, people start to line the streets in expectation of the day's biggest parade informally known as folketoget – or ‘The People's Train'. This is similar to the children's parade but made up of social groups, arts and music associations, employers, sports clubs, charities, and pretty much any organisation from the local area.
As much as I enjoy watching the people's parade, it can drag on a little. In Trondheim, there are so many groups and organisations that the parade is still going strong after a couple of hours.
Thankfully, most cafes, bars and restaurants are open for business! While many restaurants are holding private events or require advanced bookings, most cafes set up stalls outside to quickly serve coffee, waffles and ice cream to the hungry and thirsty masses. Or you can do as we normally do by mid-afternoon and retire home for a beer on the balcony!
What's your experience of the 17th of May celebrations?
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