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HURRAY, IT'S THE 17TH OF MAY! Children's parades, marching bands, traditional costumes, and ice cream. Lots of ice cream. Norway's Constitution Day is quite a party!

Brazil has its carnival, and Ireland has Saint Patrick’s Day. But what does Norway have? On the 17th of May, we celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. In Norway, Constitution Day is huge – all over the country.

While many countries celebrate their national day with a military parade, Norway’s 17th of May is a party for everyone, especially children. Before heading out to the parades and festivities, many like to get together to share a huge breakfast – often a pot luck with friends, family, and neighbours – with freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and (for the grown-ups) some bubbly.

Parades and ice cream

Children’s parades then take place across the country, as marching bands lead processions through local communities. The biggest parades attract tens of thousands of people, who wave flags and shouting “hooray”! In Oslo, Karl Johan, the high street, is filled with happy people watching the big parade. The royal family wave tirelessly to the crowds passing from the balcony of the Royal Palace.

The day is celebrated all over the country, either you are in a small village or in a big city. A unique feature in Bergen is the city's traditional Buekorps – traditional neighbourhood groups of marching drummers.

Although the day is patriotic, it has a very inclusive and joyous atmosphere – visitors are welcomed warmly! The focus is mostly on eating huge amounts of ice cream and hot dogs, listening to speeches and music, and playing games at local schools.

What to eat on the national day

The bunad – Norway's traditional costume

The day is also an opportunity to show off one's bunad, Norway’s traditional costumeworn by both men and women. Like a Scottish kilt, there are many variations, with colours and styles indicating where in Norway the owner’s ancestry lies.

You will never see more people wearing the traditional costume then on the 17th of May!

Ask for a russekort!

You can also spot teenagers in red, blue, black, and green jumpsuits. These are members of the graduating class who are in their final year of upper secondary school, called russ. Many of them look tired on the 17h of May, not so much from studying for their exams as partying with their peers …

The russ have their own parades, with dancing teens in hand decorated buses and vans blaring loud music. They make for a fun and raucous sight. Ask them for a russekort, and you will get their personal calling card containing their name, photo and a joke (translate it on the internet if you wish to decipher its meaning!). Popular with children, the cards make the perfect Constitution Day souvenir.

This is a truly special time to be in Norway, and you should definitely join in on the celebrations. While most shops and offices are closed, you need to book a table in advance if you want to go out for lunch or dinner, although there are plenty of stalls and vendors selling food to the crowds.

If you are driving, bear in mind that the roads in the centre of most cities and towns will be cordoned off to traffic during the parades.

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