Norway’s Constitution was signed the 17th of May in 1814 by an elected National Assembly at Eidsvold outside of Oslo. 33 of the delegates were chosen from the army and the navy, 25 from the cities and 54 from the countryside. Because of the long distance, the northern part of Norway had no delegates. On the same day the Constitution was signed Christian Fredrik (from Denmark) was elected king of Norway. He reigned only a few months, and then the throne was handed over to the Swedish king, Karl Johan, the 10th of October 1814. For almost 100 years, until 1905 Norway was in a union with Sweden.

The day usually starts with a flag-raising ceremony at a nearby school, church or governmental building. Then, pupils join in the Children’s Parade, while adults watch and cheer from the side-walks. All the schoolchildren in the whole country march with the Norwegian flag in their hands and colourful banners, which represent their school or their class, in front. You may read more about the marching band at my wife DianeCA’s post.
17th of May Parade in Norway #1
Marching out from the school with the Principal in the lead (to the right) in his bunad.

Many countries celebrate their Constitution or Independence, but opposed to these – as you can see in the photo above – the Norwegian celebration has no reference to military power. Norway’s National Day is a day of flags, parades, speeches and bands playing the national anthem; “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (Yes, we love this country). The concept is simple, a local celebration regardless of the weather, with classmates and neighbours showing their national pride in a peaceful and harmless way. You may hear the band play the national anthem and learn more about the school celebration from my post by clicking here.

My vid from a Happy parade in 2006 on a slightly rainy day:

I have now posted about the 17th of May for five years in a row, so we will use my earlier posts as a way of highlighting this year’s. So be sure to click on the links to learn more.

Norway’s National costumes – “Bunad”:
You will notice that many are wearing their regional costumes called Bunad. Each region of Norway has its own Bunad and those which use it wear the costume from the area their family roots come from. Last year we met a very nice Norwegian family dressed up in their proper Bunad, and I could not resist asking them if they would pose to illustrate how the family’s traditional clothes should be. This is a fine example of the traditional costume for both adults and children:
17th of May Norway Constitution Day #7
The Bunad is artfully hand embroidered and must be made from the correct wool material with the traditional pattern. Some areas allow you to choose variations of Bunad, but the rules are relatively strict in order to keep the tradition in tact. If you have Bunad then the 17th of May is the high time to use it. In addition it is used for weddings, baptismal, and very special occasions.

When the activities in the school-yards are finished, the festivities continue in the centre of town, where people from all over the area meet. Here there is a new parade with different organizations marching. All kinds of organizations are represented; the scouts, soccer teams, folk dance groups, religious organizations, and bands. This one in our local town is called the flower parade, and flowers are thrown out to the onlookers by the participants (click picks to bigify & enjoy):
17th of May Parade in Norway #6 17th of May Parade in Norway #5
Some of the locals have even decorated their classic car for the event, while others have decorated their scooter.
17th of May Parade in Norway #4 17th of May Parade in Norway #3
You may see a review of this parade by clicking here!

Russ – The revelling Norwegian high school graduates:
The graduates have a special place in the 17th of May celebration. Throughout the month of May they celebrate the end of the high school years with numerous parties and funny tasks which they must do to get a knot in the tassel of their hats. One of the rules is that they have to wear their Russ uniform everyday without being allowed to wash it:
17th of May Russ in Norway

A modern addition to this celebration is the Russ Bus. Students get together and work hard for a year or two to save up money and pool it together into buying, decorating and equipping a bus for the Russ season:
17th of May Russ bus from Norway
The bus is literally a rolling party, with loud music, lights and Russ only allowed inside. Although this might seem like a party mentality, it is also a learning experience for those who join a bus (not all do!) because it requires saving, planning, working on a concept, working towards a goal and project management to get the concept “rolling”. You may read more in my article about the Russ by clicking here!

So I do hope understand the special feeling I have when I am able to share this tradition with you. It is the most Norwegian of the Norwegian, and I am proud to be able to introduce it to family and friends through out the Blogsphere. If you have been inspired by this post, and would like to see some bunad and learn our history on your own, remember we still are taking bookings for the Oslo Blog Gathering in August. Join us and you can march down Karl Johan street yourself!


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  2. Pingback:No 17th of May without the marching band! « DianeCA’s Metamorphoses

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  4. So nice of Norway to celebrate my wedding anniversary! ;-)

    I’ve been in Norway on 17 May twice and the celebration really is so joyful and colourful…

  5. I knew this day was important for something other than my going back to school, Renny! :)

  6. Pingback:Hurrah hurrah for the 17th of May! « DianeCA’s Metamorphoses

  7. I love the traditional Norwegian dress. So very handsome!

  8. Gratulerer med dagen :)

  9. It looks like a lot of fun … so colourful!

  10. Thanks for this interesting insight into Norwegian culture. Happy National Day!

  11. Years after years I learn to know better through your posts, Norway ! I really hope to see families wearing the traditional bunad when I’ll be in Oslo at the BG!
    Happy National Day, Renny!!!

  12. Thank you for all the happy memories! We have had many happy 17th of May celebrations together.

  13. I think it is great it has no reference to military power. I don’t like the parade on Bastille Day… Canada’s National Day is not very militaristic either, except for the Snowbirds (the planes) flying over the Parliament.

  14. Happy (belated) May 17! My husband flew his Norweian flag yesterday here in Florida. Hope you and Diane had a lovely time.

  15. Hapy Belated National Day and I love the custom and the costume :)

    I read the news about the ash from Iceland that affected one Norwegian from flying home and he was visibly upset….hope he manage to hop on that flight though.

    Thanks for sharing Renny :D

  16. I’m so glad you ‘stumbled’ upon my blog, Heart Choices. I loved your post on Syttende Mai. What a great resource you are. I loved the video.

    Both of my parents’ parents were born in Norway. My parents grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, New York. I’ve been to Norway once and visited Sumstad where my grandfather was born and raised.

    Nice to meet you,

  17. Norsk Turlag have marked paths, and it does depend on where you’re starting from as to where’s best. Most of the tours are longer as they’re for a weeks walking holiday.

  18. » Blog Archive » Bunad Parade 2008 – 7-Lag Stevne Banquet

  19. Norway ! I really hope to see families wearing the traditional bunad when I’ll be in Oslo at the BG!!

  20. Good and interesting description of the 17th of May, also for a norwegian :) i dont have a Bunad, but maybe for next year!

  21. It looks lovely as usual! Wonderful bunads and parades. I was surprised to see rain from 2006 syttende mai – hubby claims that it’s always sunny this day since it’s his birthday…. *giggles*

  22. That’s a great event. Norway’s national costumes are beautiful. I admire that lovely family in the photo.

  23. At our school we make national days at school like “national make-out day or national butt rape day” we cant think of any more. any ideas?

  24. Great history lesson. I love the pictures with the traditional clothes. Those kids look so cute.

  25. Pingback:May 17 in Norway celebrating National and Constitutional Day

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