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Norway's national day

Oslo .
Photo: Asgeir Helgestad / Visitnorway.com
Oslo .
Photo: Asgeir Helgestad / Visitnorway.com

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.

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.

Two people getting ready for a 17 May breakfast on the Norwegian Constitution Day
17 May breakfast.
Photo: Merethe Foap / Visitnorway.com

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. 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.

People enjoying the sun in the park wearing bunads on 17 of May - Norway’s national day
Norway’s national day in bunad.
Photo: Fredrik Ahlsen / Visitnorway.com

The bunad – Norway's traditional costume

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

Learn more about the bunad

Four girls out on the field wearing bunad, the Norwegian traditional costume in Volda in Fjord Norway
Girls in bunad on the field.
Photo: Kamilla Tellefsen

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.

What is Constitution Day?

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 at the time, King Karl Johan of Sweden and Norway banned the festivities from 1820 until 1829.

The first public speech to mark the day was delivered in 1833 by Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. Since then, the 17th of May has been celebrated as Norway’s national day.

In 1870, the celebrations became more official when the first children’s parade was held in Christiania (later renamed 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 waves to the crowds from the balcony. The parade is broadcast on national television.

Explore more of Norway's unique traditions

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