Two days ago Norway celebrated its birthday – National day, also known as Constitution day. But everyone calls it “17 mai” because everyone knows what it stands for. Constitution of Norway was dated on 17th of May 1814 even though Norway was still under rule of Denmark. After Napoleon lost the war and Denmark as his ally had to give up on Norway, Norway still didn’t get independent but was forced into the union with Sweden. Only in 1905 Norway could claim its independence when the union was dissolved. Maybe, that is why Norwegians appreciate their independence so much, both in private and in state affairs. They have been fighting for it for quite a long time.
On 17th of May the Norwegian flag is seen everywhere: in the hands of children marching in the parade, in the decoration of the streets, in the clothes of celebrating people. You rise up the flag if you have a flagpole in your garden or hang it outside of your window. Where can you get a flag? Everywhere. Weeks before 17th of May every supermarket and little kiosk sells flags, pins and decorations.
If you want to celebrate like a Norwegian, gather your friends for breakfast and serve champagne. Also make a cake decorated like a flag: with blueberries, strawberries and cream. Then go to the main street and watch the children’s parade and shout “Hipp hipp hurra!”. Learn to sing the national hymn “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (“Yes, we love this country”) and “Norge in rødt, hvit og blått” (“Norway in red, white and blue”) – you can find the songs with lyrics on Youtube – and sing with the crowds.
If you don’t own the bunad (Norwegian national dress) or your own national dress, make sure to wear red, white or blue clothes and a three-colored pin. Norwegians would wear their bunads, which all differ according to regions, and it is ok to ask them “And where does your bunad come from?” They would proudly tell the story of their dress. And it is ok to talk to strangers because this day is a special day, and everyone is happy (or tipsy, or both). As long as you approach with respect and share their cheer.
After the children’s parade, don’t leave, but stay for another parade: russparade. Russ are the school graduates, who wear special overalls, russdress, red or blue usually, according to the school line. They start to wear them four weeks before 17th of May and party hard. The tradition goes that you wear your russdress without washing it and changing it in those 4 weeks. Russ also do a lot of pranks and crazy tasks to earn the knots in their cap, russelue. The total idea of russ is going crazy and wild, while preparing for your final exams. So these kids must be real multitaskers, studying at day and partying almost every night 🙂
After all the parades and colored foam flying in all directions, join Norwegians in a bar or cafe and go on celebrating. Some places turn up their volume and you can have a real party feeling standing on some terrace with your beer, hearing those beats and not your neighbor. Remember to eat a hot dog or ice-cream, or both,since it is official food of 17th of May. Walk around the city and soak in the spirit of celebration. Then you can go home, turn on the main channel NRK and watch the report on celebrating the day from all the small and big places in Norway, and from all other the world. It is captivating to see that such a little country can have so much pride and keep its tradition even in a tiny Norwegian community up in the North, in Nairobi or Bejing.
Yes, it can be crowded and their will be lines for ice-cream, hot dogs, bars, and almost everything. There will be noise and music of hundreds of orchestras. It can rain or even snow on this day, but it will not stop the people. If you approach everything with an open mind, you will surely get infected with the cheer and pride of this usually reserved nation.
Does the Norwegian celebration look like national day in your country? Does it surprise you in some ways?
P. S. I am not very comfortable taking pictures of people without asking them, that’s why many shots are from the back or distance. How do you feel about taking pictures of people in such situations?