Countries celebrate their national day in many different ways. Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish have Saint Patrick’s Day and Norwegians celebrate the 17 May, commemorating the signing of the constitution in 1814. The Norwegian Constitution Day is hugely important to Norwegians.
17 May Parade In Oslo
While many countries celebrate their national day with a military parade, the Norwegian 17 May is more of a party for everyone, especially the children. Before they take to the streets, many will gather for a 17 May breakfast, often a pot luck with friends and neighbours with freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and for the grown-ups, champagne.
17 May Breakfast
Children’s parades then take place across the country, led by marching bands or school music corps, they walk through their communities. The largest of the traditional parades attract tens of thousands of people waving flags and shouting “hurra!”. In Oslo, the parade is greeted by the royal family who are waving tirelessly to the crowds from the Royal Palace balcony.
Nationalistic perhaps, but the non-militaristic and generally joyous atmosphere, in addition to the children’s special place in the celebrations, makes the day a largely uncontroversial affair. The focus is mostly on eating huge amounts of ice cream and hot dogs, listening to speeches, and playing games at local schools.
The day is also an opportunity for men and women to show off their “bunad”, Norway’s traditional costumes. There are hundreds of different ones, with colours and styles indicating where in Norway the owner’s ancestry lies.
Significantly less colourful are the red or blue jumpsuits of the “russ”, soon-to-be-graduates celebrating the end of 13 years of school. Most of them look extremely tired by 17 May, and the tiredness usually does not stem from them staying up all night studying for their exams.
The russ have their own parades, with buses and vans with expensive and rather loud sound systems. Ask them for a “russekort”, and you will get their personal calling card containing personal info and more or less funny jokes.
This is a truly special time to be in Norway, and you should join the locals in their celebration. And while most shops and offices are closed that day, you should definitely book a table in advance if you want to go out for lunch or dinner.
If you are driving, bear in mind that the centre of most cities and towns will be off limits during the parades.