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NORWEGIAN TRADITIONS

Strange Norwegian superstitions foreigners should know about

Today is Friday 13th, and Norwegians are a superstitious bunch. From spitting when you see certain cats to why knitting your partner a sweater could spell disaster for your relationship, here is everything you need to know about what brings you bad – and good – luck in Norway.

Strange Norwegian superstitions foreigners should know about
A black cat, or bearer of bad luck if superstition is to be believed. Photo: Raquel Pedrotti on Unsplash

Black cats

Seemingly a bad omen wherever you are in the world, any encounter with a cat in Norway should be followed either with a curse or by spitting on the ground. Black cats are bearers of bad luck, according to Norwegian folklore. Following an encounter with a black cat, you’ll have to spit on the ground three times or say “tvi tvi tvi” over your shoulder to ward off evil spirits.

Weather

The weather has been subject to old wives’ tales and superstition as long as the sun has shone, it seems, and when the sun shines in Norway, you shouldn’t whistle. Otherwise, you might beckon rain.

A popular superstition among farmers, animals coming down from the mountains is a sign of bad weather. This one may have a degree of truth to it as animals like cows and sheep have more attuned senses than humans and may sense the change in pressure.

One that rings less true is the moon being high in the sky, signalling cold, and a low moon heralding more mild weather.

READ ALSO: Superstitions about the weather in Norway that are actually true

The northern lights

Nowadays, millions of people have seeing the northern lights on their list of things to do before they die.

In centuries gone, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. For those living in the north at the time, the northern lights were an unwelcome sight.

Expectant mothers in northern Norway were told not to look at the lights during pregnancy if they wanted a trouble-free birth.

Thought to be the souls of the dead by the indigenous Sami people, the worst thing you can do to the nordlys is to wave, whistle or sing. This will alert the lights to your presence, and it lift you up and take you away. A more sinister interpretation was that the lights would reach down and lop off your head.

Luckily, you can prevent this by clapping your hands to ensure your safety.

The northern lights are a lot more sought after these days. Photo by Stein Evil Liland Pexels

Fishermen

Fishermen have plenty of their own superstitions, including one involving horses.

Once aboard a seafaring vessel, it’s best not to mention horses at all. This is because horses are associated with death as the dead were normally hauled off by horses in times gone by.

Backpacks are taboo too so best leave your rucksack on drier land. Backpacks are considered bad luck because of their links to the mountains. While you are unlikely to run into a mountain at sea, sailors and fishers are instead wary that the sea’s floor will tear through the boat’s hull.

READ ALSO: The unusual Norwegian laws every foreigner should learn about

Relationships

Giving your partner a gift is a great way to show you care about them. However, these two gifts could be ruinous for your relationship, so it’s best to steer clear of these when brainstorming presents for your beloved.

Knitting a sweater for your significant other won’t just take up your valuable time, but it could also spell doom for your relationship.

Norwegian folklore says a woman should never knit a sweater for her boyfriend because it means he will leave her. The superstition doesn’t explain why this will happen.

Furthermore, it doesn’t specify whether giving somebody a sweater works on ditching a lover you want to give the boot.

It’ll be safer for your relationship if you just buy your partner a sweater instead. Photo: Diego Pontes from Pixels

It’s not just the sweaters that will cause you relationship woes. Superstition also says that men should never give their partner a handkerchief, not just because it’s not the most romantic of gifts, but because superstition says a man giving a women handkerchief means he will only ever cause her grief and tears.

Unlucky 13

Many argue that the fear of the number 13 as an unlucky number can be traced back to Norse mythology. 

It is said that 12 Norse deities sat down for a meal of the gods. The meal was gate-crashed by Loki, the shape-shifting god of mischief and disorder, raising the number to 13. Loki then proceeded to ruin the party, even causing one of the other gods at the meal to die.

Pregnancy

If the child is particularly lively during pregnancy, then you are most likely having a boy, as girls are believed to be more leisurely.

Another sign of a baby boy on the way would be if the expectant mother looks well during pregnancy. This, somewhat unfairly, perhaps, is due to the superstition that a baby girl steals their mother’s beauty.

In addition to this, if you find yourself frequently worried during pregnancy, you’re probably expecting a boy, and if you are calm, you most likely have a girl on the way.

When the baby is born, you best be wary of making sure it doesn’t look in a mirror until it is at least one. Otherwise, it could live an unhappy life.

Nature

If a ladybug happens to land on your hand and it flies away on its own accord without you agitating it then you get to make a wish.

Nothing is more reminiscent of springtime than the sound of birds chirping. If you hear the calls of the gjøk/gauk or cuckoo, then it means spring has sprung and it is time to walk barefoot in the grass.

On Sankthansaften (Midsummer), unmarried women should go and pick seven types of wildflower and place them under their pillow and then later that night they will dream about their future husband.

Not technically wildlife, as they are not real (or are they), but on Christmas, you need to put a bowl of porridge with a big knob of butter to stop husnisser/nisser, little gnomes or elves, from playing their mischievous tricks on you throughout the following year.

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MAY 17TH

What you need to know about Norway’s May 17th celebrations this year 

For the first time in three years, Norway will mark its national day of celebration, Constitution Day, without pandemic restrictions. This is what you need to know about May 17th.

What you need to know about Norway's May 17th celebrations this year 

What is May 17th? 

“Syttende Mai”, as it’s known in Norwegian, is Norway’s national day and marks the signing of the constitution on the same day in 1814, which declared Norway an independent nation. 

How is it celebrated?

For many, it begins with a large breakfast with friends or family. The breakfast is a typically Norwegian one, consisting of bread, rolls, spreads (or pælegg), and baked goods. 

Breakfast begins typically quite early, and it won’t be uncommon for the meal to be accompanied by champagne. 

The day is celebrated in pretty the same way everywhere across the country. 

The main feature of the day is marching bands and children’s parades through the town, city or village centre. 

These haven’t been as prominent in recent years due to the pandemic. However, you can expect a return to form this year as a record number of kids have signed up to take place in the children’s parade in Oslo this year

The parade in Oslo is the most iconic. Children parade up to the palace and wave at the royal family. 

The kids’ parade is followed by a worker’s one and then a russetog, consisting of final year high-school students who have spent the last month or so partying. 

People will then either eat out, grill at home, or have family dinners. 

What’s with the costumes?  

If you have spent any time in Norway, it is almost without doubt that you will have seen or at least heard of a bunad

The origins of the bunad has its roots in the period of national romanticism in Norway in the 19th century. This period led to an interest in traditional folk costumes in Norway and countries such as Germany. 

Folk costumes were worn in Norway a long time before the period of national romanticism, however. For example, in Setesdal, southern Norway, a tradition of folk costumes stretches back to the 14th century. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Norway’s national costume

Do I have to wear a bunad

Not if you don’t want to. Which, to some, will be a relief as they are incredibly expensive. 

Although, you will be expected to dress smartly if you have been invited for breakfast, unless stated otherwise. 

A smart pair of trousers and shirt for men is recommended at a minimum if attending an event. Local men who don’t have a bunad may opt for a full suit and tie. 

Women are also expected to dress up for the occasion. 

What else do I need to know? 

If you are visiting Norway, you may find it hard to find a place to eat as many restaurants will either be closed or fully booked for a special May 17th menu.  

Also, getting about may be a bit of a hassle as roads will be closed for parades. In Oslo, people are being asked to avoid the National theatre T-bane stop. 

As it’s a public holiday, supermarkets, shops and state-owned wine monopolies will be shut. On the plus side, that also likely means that you’ll have a day off work too. 

Flag-waving is a big tradition, but there are a few general rules. If you hoist a Norwegian flag on May 17th, it will need to be taken down by 9pm. 

Additionally, if waving a small flag, you shouldn’t point the flag toward the ground because it is rude. 

And finally, while the celebrations may be strange for an outsider, Norwegians are very proud of the day and its traditions. To avoid making any potential social faux pas, you should avoid poking fun at some of the traditions. 

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