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NORWEGIAN TRADITIONS

What you should know about Norway’s February holidays and traditions

Here's a guide to the winter holidays in Norway what you can expect to celebrate during the month of February.

What you should know about Norway's February holidays and traditions
Photo by Knut Bakke on Unsplash

Vinterferie 

The primary purpose of the vinterferie or “winter holiday” is to be with family and friends. And perhaps dust off your skis for a long cross country trip in the mountains. The warm and fuzzy associations Norwegians have with this holiday are relatively modern.

This is because the week of freedom is rooted in darker times of Norway’s history. Before it was called winter holiday, the break from school during February was referred to as Brenselsferie or “Fuel Holiday”. The first fuel holiday took place in 1942, and was established by the German occupation in Norway during World War II. The main purpose of the school closures was to save the fuel needed to warm up schools in Norway during the coldest weeks of the year. It wasn’t until after the war ended that the Norwegian government decided to keep brenselsferie, and it became a time for family and fun activities. 

While all other holidays happen on the same date throughout all of Norway, winter break is special in that the days free from school happen on different weeks depending on where in the country you live. 

A good part of Norwegian schools close for vinterferie on week 8 (the 21st to the 25th of February) in the eastern and southern parts of Norway. Up north, schools are closed the week before on week 7 (14th to 18th). And over on the west side in Bergen and its surrounding municipalities, winter break happens during week 9 (Feb 28th – Mar 4th). 

Karneval 

Norway has its very own traditions centered around the internationally popular festival known as Carnival. The celebration has Roman Catholic origins. But when Protestantism became the main religion in Norway during the 1500’s, many of the religious associations around the festival disappeared. Today, Carnival or Karneval is mostly celebrated by younger children in their kindergartens and pre-schools. Primary grade schools host their own celebrations where the children get to dress up in masks and costumes and go in a procession, sing, and play games. 

Fastelavn 

Fastelavn is a Northern European tradition that is a part of karneval celebrations. It also originates from Roman Catholic traditions and  means aften før fasten, or “the evening before the fast”.The adults may not get to dress up in costumes like the children do. But they do wear looser fitting pants in preparation for Fastelavnsboller, This is a special type of bolle (an airy bun) that is cut into two, filled with cream and jam, and then powdered with sugar on top! But make sure you make it to the bakery early if you don’t plan on making your own. Fastelavnboller sell out quickly. 

In addition to feasting on delightful sugary buns, you may also notice an abundance of bjørkeris being sold in the shops and primarily at the florists during the last few weeks of February. Bjorkeris is a bundle of twigs from a birch tree that are tied together with yarn or a thin rope. Primary school age children traditionally decorate them in school with bright feathers and bring them home to use as decorations. You can also buy them plain or professionally decorated.

This year, Fastelavn lands on Sunday, February 27th.

What about the day of love? 

In many countries, Valentine’s day is recognized as a day of love, romance, and sweet gestures. But don’t feel bad if you don’t come home with flowers and chocolates to your loved one in Norway. Norwegians don’t appear to be interested in the commercial side of the holiday.

Yes, Valentine’s day is acknowledged in this country but really, there is no pressure for grand gestures of kjærlighet or “love” as this traditional (and commercialized) day of love is like most others. You may however see some red hearts or banners placed in boutique windows. And you may find it more difficult to get reservations and certain restaurants. 

Valentine’s day (February 14th) lands on a Monday this year.

Mothers day 

Mothers day is traditionally a day that recognizes the importance of a mother’s work. The customs associated with this day are similar to the ones in many other countries. Even though the honouring lands on different days depending on which country you are in.

Although Mothers day was first organized by religious associations in Norway, it is now typical for families to host their own celebrations showing appreciation for the mothers in the family.

In typical Norwegian fashion, the day has more subdued and casual celebrations. Just like Valentine’s day, the acknowledgment of a special occasion is there. Though baking a cake or writing a card is doing plenty enough. 

This year, Mothers Day falls on Sunday, February 13th.

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For members

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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