Norway’s National Holiday: Constitution Day
The Norwegian national flag, bunads and children will be flooding the streets of Norway on 17 May as the Scandinavian country commemorates its 200th year of democracy this Saturday. Here’s what you need to know about Norway Constitution Day.
Norway Constitution Day is an official national holiday that falls on 17 May every year. The day is often called syttende mai (17th May) or Nasjonaldagen (The National Day).
The story of Norway Constitution Day traces its origins on the day the country’s constitution was signed: 17 May 1814. The Constitution of Norway (Grunnlov) declared the country an independent kingdom, derailing a treaty that would have turned over the country to Sweden.
Early celebrations were started by students and were quelled by the monarchy because it believed the festivities were a sort of rebellion. It was after 1864 when celebrations became more established. By 1905, the monarchy took a more active role in the celebrations. Celebrations commemorating the ending of World War 2 in Norway were integrated to the 17 May event.
Today, Norway Constitution Day is considered a non-military national celebration and has an important focus on school children and integration.
How it is celebrated
On Norway Constitution Day, children and women often wear the traditional clothing called bunad and other traditional attires. Many adults who do not wear costumes are nevertheless dressed to the nines. The Norwegian flag can be seen everywhere.
Communities congregate near school grounds to witness the children’s parade. Activities include speeches, marching bands, flag parades, singing, noise-making, games and food. The children’s parade goes around the neighbourhood and often makes stops in memorials and other notable places to greet crowds and to pay their respects.
In the capital city of Oslo, the Norwegian Royal Family makes a special appearance at the Royal Palace, waving and greeting the crowd. Often, the royal families of Sweden and Denmark are also invited to commemorate the signing of the constitution in the village of Eidsvoll, north of Oslo.
Expats on National Day
Norway Constitution Day has a very ‘inclusive’ feeling that encourages foreigners to join in the celebrations. Expats in Norway are often given flags and are encouraged to eat traditional food like the sour cream porridge called rømmegrøt and the highly alcoholic Aquavit (a swig of strong beer is often used as chaser).
Norwegian communities abroad also eat lutefisk, a pungent-smelling dish made of dried fish and served with a variety of side dishes like potatoes, cheese, gravy, meat, bread and cranberries. Norwegian expats also remember the history of their ancestors in their host countries.
200 Years of Democracy
The Grunnlov, which turns 200 years old this year, is recognised as one of the oldest constitutions still in effect in Europe. Because of this, bi-centenary celebrations were promised to be the biggest ever.
Last Thursday, the Royal Family, Parliament President Olemic Thommessen, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, 400 mayors and a number of representatives from Denmark and Sweden held the opening ceremony in the Storting (parliament). The theme of the speeches had been on appreciation of the country’s strong democratic tradition.
The following events will be held in Oslo on 17 May:
- Morning: Choral music outside the main churches
- 8am: Ceremonies at the graves and statues of famous Norwegians, including poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen
- 10am to 1pm: Children’s parades from Festningsplassen (near Akerhus Fortress) to Storting. The Royal Family will make their appearance at the Royal Palace.
- Afternoon: Free concerts around the city