Happy Syttende Mai, Norway!

Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish Saint Patrick’s Day. Norway has Syttende Mai (17th May), its national day, an annual celebration at home and abroad that commemorates the signing of their constitution in 1814. The Constitution of Norway was passed unanimously by the Eidsvoll Assembly on 16 May 1814 and signed into law the next day. But while it did end a union with Denmark and opened up a new era of national freedom, the constitution did not give Norway its independence and, as Norway remained in a union with Sweden, festivities celebrating the constitution were banned for many years. The first public address on the constitution’s anniversary was held in 1833 and, from 1870, the day became a fixture in the calendar.


Syttende Mai Norway


While countries such as France celebrate their national day with military parades and rousing speeches, Syttende Mai is more similar to Canada and America’s by being primarily civilian in focus. Norwegians start the day with a large breakfast of smoked salmon and champagne, eaten with friends and neighbours. Dressed in bunads (traditional costume) and carrying several flags, they then take to the streets. Children’s parades take place in every town, city and village. Led by marching bands they walk alongside friends from school and local organisations, singing patriotic songs and eating hotdogs (pølse). In Oslo, the parade (of over a hundred schools) travels up Karl John’s Gate, pausing at the foot of the Royal Palace to be greeted by the royal family and to sing the royal and national anthems. This parade is attended by around 100,000 people and is broadcast live on national and international radio and television channels.


Syttende Mai Norway


The day is also celebrated by Norwegian expats abroad, with particularly large celebrations amongst immigrants in the American Midwest, Scotland and London, where a celebration takes place in Southwark Park.

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