Celebrating like a local: the National day of Norway

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.

17th of May, Oslo
main street of Oslo on 17th of May

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 🙂

Norwegian graduates, russ
red russ, Norwegian graduates

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?

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23 thoughts on “Celebrating like a local: the National day of Norway

  1. I think it’s cool that young people dress up ik the national costume! In Finland, Independence day is only celebrated by the rich and wealthy, who are invited to the President’s palace. Everyone else watches the elite party on tv at home, which is kind of depressing. Of course some people organise private parties, too. It’s in the middle of the winter so that’s probably why it all happens indoors 😊 As for street photography, I can’t bring myself to do it. Personally, I don’t like the idea of people publishing my photo without my knowledge so I try not to do that to them. Having said that, I have posted a few photos of strangers, but they were silhouettes or otherwise so tiny that you couldn’t recognise them. Where to draw the line?

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    • Yes, it is a great sense of tradition, costumes too, and both small and big take part in it. Oh, so sad that Finnish national day is kinda for some classes only. The feeling of solidarity can go missing. And celebrating in winter makes it even more difficult. I remember all important dates in Ukraine were in summer-spring, and the whole city was on the streets. So much life and fun!
      I thought of you when I was doing the street photos. I remember you discomfort with Periscope 🙂 I love sudden shots of people when they are not aware of it, but I don’t know how you do after that, go and ask to post it your blog?..I feel so shy about it. So I thought I will not do close shots, so that it will not be so easy to identify the person, and would try to show the people only in their best light (no drunken faces, for ex.). This discussion is not an easy one.

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  2. Hi, ME – my blog only has a back-and-forth reply once for me (twice for the reader), so I couldn’t answer your question about my great aunt’s thimble… Truthfully, I wasn’t curious about it’s monetary value, but how it was actually made, as you stated – how the gold was molded to such detail, and if it was made for her specially, or bought (where? when? by whom?) as a very special gift to mark a special occasion like her birthday or wedding. I don’t even know when she was born or if she married. I recall my mother telling me she died quite young. Lots to find out. Thanks for the inquiry!

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    • We can keep on chatting here then 😉 It is great when a thing comes with so many questions and stories. In that time it was not usual to acquire a lot of things, so maybe it was a present for special occasion. You should do research and create a book story of it! 🙂

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  3. P.S. …You got me very curious…I just weighed it! It’s only 0.1 ounce… times the price for one full ounce in US dollars – $1,256 – as of the market close on Friday, May 19 = $125. It’s worth far more to me in sentimental and historical value than that! 🙂

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  4. Looks like such a fun occasion to be in Norway. I have never visited but would love to for this holiday as it seems that everyone is in a good mood lol. Similar to the 4th of July in the United States and colors are also similar too. And I can understand with the pictures that it can be somewhat uncomfortable as well, but as long as the people don’t mind, it is done with good faith.
    http://www.lacasabloga.com

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    • It is definitely the best day to experience that great spirit of pride, and fun, and celebration. In daily life it is way more quiet, reserved and modest among people here 😉 And I really wish to experience the 4th of July in States! Yours is also such a proud nation. Have you already seen Italian national day?

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      • Actually today is the Italian independence day! There was an air show this morning apparently, which I missed 😦 but other than that, it seems that Italians don’t really make a big deal out of it like they do back home. Everyone in the states always uses the 4th of july to plan a big pool party or barbeque, or take a vacation at the beach but here it seems like just another day…

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      • Wow, makes me curious and wishing to be there! Maybe, Italians do enough of celebrating and enjoying their life, that they don’t really need another reason 🙂 Or is it possible that they are not so proud of that holiday?

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      • Hmm good question. I am sure they are proud. They even did an elaborate presentation with soldiers and jets that morning that I found out about last minute. But you do have a point…I think they already live a life full of “pleasure” that everyday is a celebration to them so this date isn’t any different 🙂

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      • I would love to share that spirit of everyday celebration – to live somewhere there at least for a year. I love that Latin attitude to life, in spite of all difficulties. We, Slavic people, get negative when the life gets turbulent, and it seems that Italians carry on anyway. Maybe, it’s just an illusion. So I need to come and find out 🙂 Keep on exploring that! 😉

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