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The biggest day of the year in Norway is May 17th which celebrates the country’s independence from Sweden. Although each village organizes its own celebrations, the day consists of parties, parades, and lots of food.
In 1814, Norway was given to Sweden by Denmark in support of Napoleon with the Treaty of Kiel. But before the transaction became official, Norway declared itself independent on May 17, 1814, by signing its own Constitution, influenced by the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789.
Although Norway’s Constitution declared itself an independent country of Sweden, complete independence was not achieved until June 7, 1905. Because Norway was still under Swedish rule, celebrating May 17th came with reservations. Observing the holiday was banned from 1820 to 1829 by the King of Sweden, Karl Johan, and it was not until 1836 that Norway’s Constitution Day started being recognized publicly.
May 17 became more of a day of celebration beginning in 1870 with the first children’s parade premiering in Oslo. Today, the largest parade occurs in the same city with nearly 100,000 participants!
Norway on May 17th
Celebrations begin early, with a cannon firing at dawn to signal the start of the day. Families and friends gather early for breakfast consisting of fresh bread, eggs, salmon, and champagne.
Following breakfast, is typically the children’s parade, known as barnetog, that showcases marching bands and flag wavers from the nearby primary and secondary schools. Waves of red, white, and blue cover the streets.
Other parades include a special group known as Russ students who are preparing for high school graduation. Russ celebrations begin in the spring with a grand finale on May 17. Lots of alcohol, pranks on teachers, and parties occur this day. Russ students are seen wearing a cap and uniform, with the color of the uniform symbolizing the line of study. For example, red symbolizes the higher education route, while green is agricultural, and gold for the experts in partying.
The day before May 17, I was in Oslo, Norway, where the entire city was beaming with excitement. The parks were filled with picnic go-ers and the Palace was preparing for celebration. The morning of May 17, I flew from Oslo to Bergen, where celebrations were in full force. Parades filled the street along with thousands dressed in traditional attire, known as bunads, Norway’s national dress. Women wear dirndl style dresses while men wear folkwear suits. Typically, bunads are handmade and the design varies depending on the region.
Visiting Norway on May 17th is a cannot miss. You can sense the pride circulating throughout the country and the excitement for the day’s festivities. To me, being in Norway on May 17th gave me a fantastic view into the culture, including traditions surrounding clothing, food, and the importance of family and friends.
Tips For Visiting Norway on May 17th
The biggest May 17th celebration occurs in Oslo, Norway’s largest city. Following behind Oslo is Bergen, the second-largest city in Norway. Both of these cities will give you plenty to do during the day, just expect large crowds and lots of walking!
Bergen Havn (harbor) contains a number of impressive boats, a fair with games and rides, and a fantastic spot to eat a meal in front of the famous Hanseviertel Bryggen, a series of heritage buildings. Make sure to reserve a table for any restaurant this day as soon as possible.
Hike Mount Fløyen for spectacular views of Bergen and the harbor. A funicular is also available, called Fløibanen, for about 16 USD round-trip. If you do take the funicular, be sure to explore past the overlook at the top of the mountain. Mount Fløyen has a troll statue forest and nice walking trails. (Trolls originated in Nordic mythology and folklore, so you will find a lot of trolls throughout the country!)
For a great bite to eat that won’t break the bank, check out Trekroneren, a traditional Norwegian sausage stand.
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