How Norwegians Celebrate Their National Day — 17 May
If you happen to be in Norway on 17 May, you are in for a treat.
Firstly, learn to say “Gratulerer med dagen” to greet others. It translates to “Congratulations on this special day.”
It also means “Happy birthday” and can be used to wish people on birthdays.
Norway signed its constitution at a place called Eidsvoll back in the year 1814 on the 17th of May after the union between Denmark and Norway got dissolved. So this day marks the Norwegian constitutions anniversary. Although Norway was allowed to maintain its constitution, it was still not an independent nation and got forced into a union with Sweden until 1905.
Over the past few years, I have learned a lot of fun facts about this special day which I don’t think holds for any other country. Unlike most countries, the constitution day in Norway or “Nasjonaldagen” or “syttende mai” is celebrated much more than Norway’s independence day on June 7 when the union with Sweden got dissolved in 1905.
It’s the only day in the entire year when the streets are fully packed with locals wearing traditional costumes called bunad, long parades, marching bands, lots of kids, and lots of icecreams.
Celebrating the 17th of May is truly a unique experience and spreads a wave of festivity throughout the country. Although it’s a national holiday, the day kicks off early with cannons being fired at dawn to officially salute the day, the sound of drums banging through the streets, and people gathering for a 17 May breakfast with friends and family.
The entire city paints itself in colors of red, blue, and white, the vibrant colors of the Norwegian flag. Men, women, and kids proudly wear their traditional outfits called “bunad”. Inspired by folk costumes from the 18th and 19th centuries, these are beautiful and adorable. Made from natural materials with embroidered woolen skirts, linen shirts, silk stockings, and brocade vests. The belts, hats, and shoes are decorated with traditional silver brooches and jewelry.
There are over 200 kinds of bunads, and the colors and styles indicate the region in Norway they belong. Owning a bunad is a status symbol because it can cost anywhere from 2000 to 10000$ to buy a quality bunad, and making one takes up to a year.
As foreigners, it’s worth spending effort to dress appropriately to blend in with the locals. Many foreigners wear their country’s National costumes making the city bloom with diversity and culture.
Although many countries celebrate their National day with a military parade, in Norway children's parade or “barnetog” is a highlight of the celebrations.
The kid's march, waving Norwegian flags enthusiastically, singing songs, and shouting “hurra.”
In Oslo, the Royal family greets the crowd from the balcony of the Royal Palace. The kids can gorge on as many ice creams as they wish, and around 20 million sausages get sold during the 17 May week. With a population of 5 million, that amounts to four sausages per person in the kingdom. Well, it does sound like a big national party. Doesn’t it?
There’s even more to this day. There’s a tradition of Russ celebration for the soon-to-be graduates. They typically start celebrating with a lot of drinking and partying a month before the National day and end it on the 17th of May. They walk on the streets wearing red, blue, or black jumpsuits adorned with Norwegian flags, distributing russekorts having pictures, personal information, and funny quotes. Some Russ folks customize a bus, car, or van with their group names and logos and move around the city. Ask any Norwegian about their Russ days, and you will hear some interesting, funny, and sometimes embarrassing stories.
The 17th of May is a special time to be in Norway when the entire country comes to life singing their National song — “Ja vi elsker dette landet.” which translates to “Ya we love this land.” and swaying the National flag in pride. So make sure to mingle with the locals and have an incredibly unique experience on this day.
How do you celebrate National day in your country? Let me know in the comments below.