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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.

Pictured is a crowd on May 17th.
Here's what to expect on May 17th. Pictured are people on Karl Johan street. Photo by Gadiel Lazcano on Unsplash.

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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NORWEGIAN WORD OF THE DAY

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

Champagnefrokost

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. 

Barnetog

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. 

Bunad 

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

Nasjonalsangen

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. 

Flagg

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 

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