Norwegian national day, celebrating the writing of The Norwegian Constitution in 1814.

The day is celebrated with parades, involving the entire people. It is quite a sight to see the streets overcrowded by people in the Norwegian national suit, the bunad.

Also the day after the 16th of May, which is one of the biggest partying days of the year here in Norway, and also the day with the highest attendance at the football games in the Norwegian football season.

This means that most young people between 15 and 26 are pretty tired on the national day. Students especially are prone to stay inside on 17th of May after a hard last night, pretending to be studying for their exams, but really just trying to eliminate the obligatory national day hangover. The parades that are going on outdoors don't really help, so staying in often works, and one may or may not wear a bunad whilst doing this.

"Mom, do they have 17th of May in other countries?"

The 17th of May is Norway's national day, carnival and festival, all stirred together, wrapped in a Norwegian flag and served with ice cream. It is a day all Norwegians feel something about, and mostly what they feel is something good.


In the month of May, 1814, 112 august men from all parts of Norway¹ gathered at Eidsvoll in the middle of the country to conspire against Sweden. The country had just been released from a 400-year long union with Denmark, only to be given away to its big brother in the east as a kind of peace token. Nationalism was growing strong in Norway at this time, and the people did not particularly want to be given away.

Therefore these founding fathers assembled, on April 11, and started discussing how to create an independent Norway. On May 17, they had made a constitution and elected a king: The Danish prince Christian Frederik.

Norway would not gain independence from Sweden until 1905, but the grain had been sown and the country had made her constitution.


Some Norwegians started celebrating the day almost immediately. It had a bit of a head start. Supporters of the union with Sweden suggested the autumnal November 4, the day when the union agreement had been signed, as a national day. The springday 17th of May had it beaten hands down when it came to weather.

The celebration of the day was frowned upon and even threatened by Swedish authorities. Norwegian politicians preferred not to annoy the king in Sweden, but the nationalist students felt that annoyance was just what was needed. They made strongly pro-Norwegian songs and shouted provocative Hurrahs in the streets.


In 1829, a steamship called Constitutionen arrived in Christiania on the 17th of May. Many people assembled to receive it, cry hurrah and sing nationalistic songs. They continued celebrating throughout the day. At 10 pm, the city was supposed to be quiet. The leader of the police told the crowds to return home, but they refused - mostly because they wanted to see what happened next. Since words could not disperse them, the mayor decided to use soldiers on horses instead. And now the crowds scattered.

No one was seriously injured, but in the following days, many celebrants were interrogated by the police. The student and nationalist Henrik Wergeland was named as the main person behind the demonstration. Although the pro-Swedish authorities had won this battle, his 17th of May movement would prove stronger in the long run.

In 1836, the military commander of the fortress at Akershus sent a military parade through the streets of Christiania, to great joy among the people. A month later, he was released from his position, and king Carl Johan disbanded the Norwegian Parliament soon after.

Since their careful walk on the tightrope had still made them fall, the politicians abandoned the appeasement line and started celebrating the 17th of May as well. This made it a political day, with the two main parties - called Right and Left - each pursuing their issues on this national feastday.

The entire country was united behind the dissolution of the union in 1905, and for a while the national day became beloved of all Norwegians. But with the growth of international socialism, the workers abandoned the 17th, preferring instead to celebrate Labour day on the 1st of May.

On April 9, 1940, Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany, and any acknowledgment of the Norwegian day for independence and freedom was prohibited. After the war, this lead to all people once more gathering about the day. The 17th of May became thoroughly depoliticised, which it remains to this day.

A Children's Day

You will see no military parades marching in the streets on the national holiday. Instead there are children, from all the schools and kindergartens, dressed in fine new clothes and bunads, waving flags and singing songs. Hurrahs are cried, but not in a provocative manner. Brass bands, accompanied by twirlers, play the same five songs or so over and over again.

The children receive goodies, such as eggnog², hot dogs and as much ice cream as they can eat. The older teenagers who are graduating from high school - the russ, dressed in the red or blue of the Norwegian flag - behave like children again. Only the intermediate teenagers don't celebrate the day much, as they are to bed after extensive partying the day before.

In the afternoon, the adults are allowed to parade as well, together with their fellow members of an organisation such as a sports club, dancing school or dog-owners' forum.

Local specialities

Oslo - in Norway's capital, the King and Queen wave to the people passing by the balcony of their castle. The parade follows the street of Karl Johan - indeed, it is ironically named after the old Swedish king who was so opposed to the 17th of May celebration.

Bergen - the second largest city of Norway always wants to be different. In this city they have bands consisting entirely of drummers, who make very much noise.

Svalbard - the unfortunate part of Norway does not get to experience the 17th of May as a spring day, as it is still mostly snow covered. Svalbard, or Spitsbergen, is an island far north of the mainland, and so always has low temperatures. Sometimes they even have snow on the 17th of May. Still, I don't think they would have preferred November.

The National Anthem of Norway

Ja, vi elsker dette landet
som det stiger frem,
furet, værbitt over vannet
med de tusen hjem, -
elsker, elsker det og tenker
på vår far og mor
og den saganatt som senker
drømme på vår jord.

Yes, we love this country
As it rises,
Rugged and weaher-beaten out of the sea,
With a thousand homes.
We love it, we love it and think
Of our father and mother,
And of the night of saga that makes
Dreams descend upon this our land.

¹ Except for the delegations from the North, who had too far to go to be able to get there on time. Tough beans.
² Eggnog without any alcoholic additions, natch.

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