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Vinterferie: What you need to know about Norway’s winter holidays

Schools will close over the next few weeks, and families across the country will dust off their skis, fish out their cabin sweaters, and go on vinterferie. Here's what you need to know about Norway's winter break. 

Cross country skiers in Lillehammer.
Vinterferie is a popular time for Norwegians to go on a cross country ski trip. Pictured are skiers in Lillehammer. Photo by Solveig Smørdal Botn on Unsplash

From Monday, February 21st, schools across Norway will begin vinterferie or the winter holidays. The holidays are typically associated with skiing and time spent with loved ones in an idyllic cabin somewhere in Norway’s vast and stunning countryside.

Kids will be off school for a week, with most parents also following suit and taking holiday leave during this time.

The history behind Norway’s winter holidays

While many today have fond memories of vinterferie, the holiday actually dates back to one of the darkest times of Norway’s recent history, the German occupation. The first winter school break took place in 1942.

The first school break in February 1942 wasn’t actually given to kids so that families could spend time off together. Instead, it was to save the fuel that schools used to heat classrooms in the coldest weeks of the year. The winter holidays went by a different name, too, Brenselsferie, meaning fuel holiday.

A year after the war ended, the Norwegian government decided to keep the winter break. However, the purpose of the holiday was for spending time with family, rather than rationing resources.

It’s from here that the warmer memories of vinterferie in Norway began to be made.

When is vinterferie? 

This is a good question, and the answer to this will depend on where you live. The winter holidays begin on Monday February 21st for those in Oslo, Adger, Møre og Romsdal, Vestfold og Telemark, Trøndaleg, parts of Viken and parts of west Norway.

The following week Inland, Rogaland, Nordland, Buskerud, and the rest of western Norway go on winter break. A week after that, kids in Troms og Finnmark will have a week off school.

Parents aren’t legally entitled to holiday leave during the winter break, but many choose to take it off.

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

What do people do on vinterferie?

Cross country ski tours are a popular activity at this time of year, whether it’s a one day trip or a longer distance journey that spans a couple of days, with multiple stops at cabins.

It’s not just cross-country skiing. All forms of the winter sport are popular getaways at this time of year. Families who prefer letting gravity do the work when it comes to propulsion will opt for a ski holiday at resorts like Hemsedal, Geilo or Trysil. Now that restrictions are being lifted across Europe, people will also fly further south to soak up the alps.

Many will also take the time to visit family and friends across the county.

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For members


Five Norwegian words which help sum up May 17th

Norway's national day, May 17th, which marks the signing of the country's constitution, is a unique celebration with plenty of traditions. Here are five words that help explain the occasion.

Five Norwegian words which help sum up May 17th


Breakfast the most important meal of the day. This is no different in Norway, and on May 17th, the meal that people enjoy the most or put the hardest work into if they are hosting (but not any literal blood, sweat or tears, hopefully) is breakfast. 

May 17th normally begins with a champagne breakfast to kick start a day of festivities. The breakfast is typically held relatively early so that people can head out to join in with the celebrations, although some will do it afterwards as a kind of brunch. 

This won’t be your typical Norwegian breakfast. Instead, the canned leverpostei is likely to be parked in favour of more upmarket and luxurious sandwich toppings. 


An event that typically follows the breakfast is the childrens’ parades all over the country.

The word literally translates to ‘children’s train’ but refers to parades. Kids up and down the country will typically participate in parades, usually with their school classes. This will be through the town or city centre. 

The most famous of the childrens’ parades is the one which sees kids in Oslo make their way up Karl Johan Gate Street to wave to the royal family who watch on from the palace. 

The parades usually end with a russetog. The russetog is a procession of russ students. Russ is where final year high-school students in Norway party in the lead up to May 17th. 

This parade maybe isn’t as wholesome as the kids’ one as the students tend to look a bit worse for wear after a month of partying. 


On Norway’s national day, you’ll see plenty of locals dressed in their national costumes. 

The day is so closely associated with the bunad that the national costume could be seen as a symbol of May 17th. 

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, there is a tradition of folk costumes that stretches back to the 14th century. 

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


This means the national anthem or song, Norway’s national anthem is Ja, vi elsker dette landet (yes, we love this country). It was only adopted relatively recently, in 2019. 

While Sønner av Norge, was considered the proper national anthem up until this point, Ja, vi elsker dette landet was considered more of a de-facto national anthem and certainly the anthem of May 17th. 

It was first performed publicly on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the constitution, giving the song an incredibly close link with the country’s national day. 

If you do fancy brushing up on the lyrics, just remember it’s typically just the first and last verses that are sung. 


This one may not be overly beneficial in expanding your vocabulary, but there is no May 17th without the flags. Most apartments in Norway have a flag holder on their balcony with Constitution Day in mind. 

Not only will the majority of houses and apartment blocks have Norwegian flags on display, but most people also heading out will be carrying flags. 

The flag mania doesn’t stop there, as most breakfast tables will be adorned with flags or decorations depicting the flag. 

One rule would be to ensure that you don’t