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Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish Saint Patrick’s Day. Norway’s answer? On 17 May, we celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. In Norway, Constitution Day is huge.
While many countries celebrate their national day with a military parade, Norway’s 17 May is more of a party for everyone, especially children. Before taking to the streets, many like to gather for a 17 May breakfast – often a pot luck with friends and neighbours – with freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and (for the grown-ups) champagne.
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, the parade is greeted by the royal family, who wave tirelessly to the crowds from the balcony of the Royal Palace.
It's a patriotic, but 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.
The day is also an opportunity to show off one's bunad, Norway’s traditional costume worn 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 can also spot teenagers in red, blue, black, or green jumpsuits. These are members of the graduating class who are in their final year of upper secondary school, called russ. Most of them look exhausted by 17 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 joyous and raucous sight. Ask them for a russekort, and you will get their personal calling card containing their contact info, photo and a joke. Popular with children, the cards make the perfect 17 May 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 vendors selling food to the crowds.
If you are driving, bear in mind that the centre of most cities and towns will be closed off during the parades.
The Norwegian constitution was passed unanimously by the Eidsvoll Assembly on 16 May 1814 and signed the next day.
Students and others soon began celebrating the milestone. However, since Norway was in a union with Sweden, King Karl Johan of Sweden and Norway banned the festivities from 1820 until 1829.
The first public address was held in 1833 by Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. Since then, 17 May has been celebrated as Norway’s national day.
From 1870, the celebrations became more official when the first children’s parade was held in Christiania (now Oslo). Author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who also wrote the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”, was the driving force behind the parade.
All over Norway, children’s parades are a key part of the celebrations, with marching bands and an abundance of flags.
The longest parade is in Oslo, where about 100,000 people pack the city centre. The parade includes some 100 schools and passes the Royal Palace, where the royal family greets the crowds from the balcony. The parade is broadcast on national television.
See our selection of companies that work hard to make you happy all through your trip.
17 May is a big day for restaurants in Norway. Many Norwegians celebrate by going out to eat. It is therefore wise to make reservations if you plan to eat out this day.
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