A weekend in…
Celebrate 17 May
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Oslo on 17 May any given year, you’re in for an experience like nothing else. Whether sunny, rainy or snowy, this is the one day of the year when Norwegians all dress up in their national costumes, grab a Norwegian flag, and head outside to celebrate Norway’s Constitution Day. Norway’s constitution was signed on 17 May 1814, and this has been a day for celebration ever since.
17 May is mainly the children’s day, and in every city, town and village in Norway, children and marching bands parade down the streets waving flags, chanting, and singing songs about love, freedom and Norway. Oslo has the biggest parade, consisting of selected schools, lasting several hours and filling the city with life and colour. The highlight of the parade is when it passes by the Royal Palace, where the royal family spends the day greeting the children from the balcony. Norwegian TV live broadcasts the celebrations from every corner of the country, from the tiniest fishing villages to the largest cities.
Schools tend to have their own celebrations once the parade is over, with games, food, entertainment and competitions for the pupils and their families to enjoy. The day is also the culmination of the month-long graduation celebration of Norwegian ‘videregående’ pupils (finishing the equivalent of high school), known as ‘russefeiring’, when they don costumes in colours reflecting their particular school or field of study. Russefeiring has been a tradition since 1905 but is controversial due to public disturbances, health risks and other problems linked to alcohol consumption and drunkennes. It’s also regarded as problematic due to taking place just before the final exams, leading some students to party their revision days away. Still, the ‘russ’ are a traditional part of the city streets on 17 May, and once the children’s parade is over, the russ take over with loud music and party time in ‘russetoget’, their own parade, showing off their cars, vans, buses and other vehicles rebuilt and re-decorated to match their groupings, schools and squads. In the districts and villages, you might even see a ‘russe’ tractor or two.
Mostly, this day is about family, friends and children, and it’s important to know that on 17 May, you’re allowed to eat as many ice creams and hotdogs as you want!
CELEBRATE 17 MAY AS A NORWEGIAN:
Most Norwegians have the day off, so the day is spent with family or friends, and often begins with a traditional Champagne breakfast. It usually consists of a literal smorgasbord, known as ‘koldtbord’, filled with good food, fruit, waffles, juices and, of course, Champagne. Everybody wears their nicest clothes, whether it’s a Norwegian traditional ‘bunad’ or other pretty but weatherappropriate clothes.
Once you’re stuffed, it’s time to head outside and find a good spot for the parade. Forget driving – almost all the streets in central Oslo are closed off on 17 May to make way for pedestrians. Opt for public transport or walk.
Celebrate with the children. The parades are full of songs, chants and cheer, often in a call-and-respons fashion. Learn the words and join in the fun!
After the parade, it’s time to find a place to eat, unless you’re visiting or hosting a party at somebody’s house. Most places don’t accept reservations on 17 May, so queuing might take time unless you’re lucky or head a little bit outside the city centre. As a worst-case scenario, opt for ice cream – it’ll be available everywhere and officially counts as food on this special day.
If celebrating at home, another smorgasbord is usually appropriate. Dinner is typically light, with cured meats, sour cream porridge, sandwiches, omelettes, hot dogs, and cakes with lots of whipped cream and berries.
Wear your Norwegian or Sami flag at all times, but make sure never to point it downwards or let it touch the ground – and don’t disrespect it. Norwegians take their flag very seriously, and it’s never on display unless it’s a so-called flag day. Even on flag days, there are protocols as to when the flag is allowed to fly. It’s allowed to be raised from 8am but should always be lowered at either sunset or 9pm, whichever comes first. The north of Norway has different times to adhere to, as greater parts of the day are dark.
When the day is over, drink lots of water and put your feet up. They will be sore, and you will be dehydrated.