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Destination: 'syttende mai'; how to join in on the celebrations of Norway's day of the constitution on May 17th.

After the Easter festivities subside in Norway, the nation not only embraces the arrival of spring but also eagerly awaits one of its most distinctive national holidays: May 17th, known as Constitution Day or 'syttende mai' as Norwegians say it (seventeenth of May). The 17th of May is Norway's Constitution Day, an annual celebration held on May 17th to commemorate the adoption of the country's constitution in 1814. This historical event followed the Napoleonic Wars, leading to the establishment of Norway as an independent kingdom, although the union with Sweden persisted until 1905.

This day stands out for its unique charm, as every village and town orchestrates a children's parade. The spectacle involves students of various ages marching through the streets bedecked with banners and flags, accompanied by stirring marching bands. The profound symbolism underlying this event is the recognition that children embody the future.

Women wearing traditional Norwegian Bunad

While in France, the grotesque (and old-fashioned) grandeur of the military parades down the Champ Elysees, in Norway, it is the children who take the spotlight, a truly enchanting sight; for they are considered to define the future of the country and therefore celebrated. Furthermore, May 17th is an occasion to revel in the nationwide celebration, casting a picturesque hue of blue, red, and white across the landscape (the colours of the national flag that is).

The esteemed national TV channel NRK offers comprehensive coverage of the festivities unfolding throughout the entire country, leaving foreigners in awe. As an expatriate, I am personally moved each year as I witness the parades. They do send camera crews to even the smallest of villages, which I find so charming.

In light of this, I wish to provide a brief overview of what to anticipate and how to actively partake in the celebrations, particularly during Constitution Day in Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim.


1. Children's Parade: The highlight of the celebration is the iconic children's parade, a tradition observed nationwide. In Oslo, the capital, the largest parade takes place. Schoolchildren, accompanied by marching bands, march past the royal palace, where they are saluted by the royal family.

2. Traditional Attire (Bunad): Many Norwegians don the bunad, the traditional Norwegian festive attire, during the celebration. This attire holds significant cultural and national symbolism as it refers to the region their family is from. My favourite might be the Norlands bunad, but I'll leave it to you to pick your favourite. And do ask people about their bunads. Everyone is honoured to get the chance to explain.

3. Culinary Traditions: Indulge in the tradition of enjoying ice cream and hot dogs on May 17th. Additionally, partake in barbecues, picnics, or other communal events that characterize the day. Most parks are packed with people, which supplies an excellent way to mingle and join the festivities.

Some amusing facts

1. Diverse Bunads: Norway boasts over 400 distinct types of bunads, reflecting regional and traditional variations. Witnessing the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns during the festivities is truly captivating.

2. May 17th Cake: Kransekake, an almond cake, is a popular dessert on this day. Many people partake in a special May 17th breakfast with friends or family, creating a bustling morning scene.

3. Russ Celebration: Graduating high school students, known as Russ, also join in the May 17th festivities. They often have customized "Russ buses" and actively participate in the parade, contributing to the lively atmosphere.

How to best experience the day

1. Children's Parade Participation: Whether joining the procession or observing, dressing in a suit, a nice dress, or festive attire enhances the experience of national pride and energy.

2. Appreciate the Bunad: While foreigners typically do not wear bunads (bit of a no-go really), take pleasure in observing Norwegians proudly donning these regional representations of cultural identity. The sight is just gorgeous! I love it equally much, year in, year out.

3. Picnics and Togetherness: Celebrate the day with friends and family, engaging in picnics in the park. The convivial atmosphere encourages mingling, fostering a sense of community rarely experienced during the rest of the year. A great opportunity to experience a completely different side of an otherwise rather introverted country.

4. Attend Local Events: Many cities and towns organize concerts, parades, and other activities. A simple Google query will point you in the right direction. The day often concludes with concerts and fireworks, depending on the town.

5. Observations on May 18th: If you encounter individuals wearing bunads on the morning of May 18th, it's a fair assumption they've had 'fun' during the night 'nudge, nudge, know what I mean'.


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