May 17 – A Celebration Guide
Everything you need to know about Norway’s National Day celebrations.
Norway’s national day is celebrated in several places throughout the world, including cities such as Barcelona and New York. These events, which are hosted by the Norwegian Church Abroad, comprise a lunch, speeches and a parade, and sausages, ice cream and children’s parades are an absolute must during this special day.
Below we've listed the most important party traditions on Norway’s National Day.
Ice cream bonanza
On May 17, children all over the country can eat as much as they want. Ice cream is probably the most important dish on the May 17 menu, and any self-respecting news reporter who interviews children will pose the same important question: “How many ice creams have you eaten today?”. The answer is the same every time: At least four. All this makes May 17 one of the most important days of the year for the Norwegian ice cream industry. According to Norwegian news agency NTB, Norwegian ice cream manufacturers sells around 30 million ice creams in connection with the national day celebrations.
Although May 17 is a festive occasion, the humble sausage plays in important part on the tables of homes up and down the country. Many people opt for a fancy May 17 breakfast, but when you go out on the streets to see the children’s parades, sausages are the order of the day. According to meat products producer Nortura, 20 million sausages are consumed on 17 May, which equates to four sausages for every Norwegian man, woman, and child.
In many countries, the national day is a time for members of the armed forces to take center stage, but Norwegians send out the best they have: children! Thousands of children take part in parades on this day. The biggest parade takes place in Oslo, where around 60,000 children make their way up to the Royal Palace. But it’s not one huge parade as schools alternate the times at which their pupils make the walk. The best place to view the parade is right up by the Palace as you can also wave to the Royal Family as they stand out on the balcony and greet the children. The event is completely free of charge, but if you want a good place you need to get there early. Seeing the scatterbrained children pass by causes many people’s hearts to swell with pride.
People dress up in their finest clothes. Bunad, which is a feast day dress based on the Norwegian national costume, is particularly popular. According to newspaper VG, there are around 2.5 million bunads in use throughout Norway. It even has its own institute - the Norwegian Institute of Bunad and Folk Costume. According to Wikipedia, this is a national academic institution that documents, researches and promotes folk costumes and bunads as expressions of Norwegian culture. On May 17, party-minded men and women dressed in beautiful bunads adorned with silver flood the streets, alongside many others decked out in painstakingly made, finely finished costumes. A sight for sore eyes! But wearing a bunad is a serious matter. There are many rules dictating how it is to be worn, and those who enforce these rules are known as the “bunad police”.
No parade without a band
The first sign that May 17 is around the corner - apart from the fact that you see the date approaching on the calendar - is the sound of band music. It can be heard throughout the year but becomes more apparent in April as bands come out onto the streets to practice as part of their May 17 preparations. By the end of 2016, 59,048 Norwegians were registered band members. Playing in a band is a serious commitment. In addition to turning up to rehearsals, you have to be up with the lark on May 17. But most Norwegians would agree that, without bands, the national day celebrations just wouldn’t be the same.
May 17 speech
The national day is not just about eating ice cream and watching children’s parades, it also has a serious side. In addition to the permanent fixtures of flag-raising and singing, the May 17 speech is another very important element of the celebrations. Politicians, renowned business people and schoolchildren are among those who give speeches. It is a particular genre of speech, which addresses the origins of May 17, democracy and why this day is a day of celebration. The speeches are also usually slightly political.
Norwegian schoolchildren who have finished their upper-secondary education mark the occasion with a huge celebration. You can recognize them by their red and blue jumpsuits. Red signifies that you have completed a specialist study program, whilst blue indicates that you have taken a retail and clerical course. Planning for the celebrations begins in the year prior to graduation. For many students, the celebrations, which start in late April and reach a crescendo on May 17, last a full 24 hours. Some buy their own buses that they travel around in. Huge events and concerts are put on.
May 17 from north to south
The national day is celebrated with children’s parades and fun events in towns and villages throughout the country. If you are a nature-lover, there are hundreds of wonderful places where you can mark the event. One such place is at Finsehytta, which is situated 1,222 meters above sea level. The May 17 celebrations start there at 8 am with a salute, flag raising and a rendition of the Norwegian national anthem. This is followed by breakfast. People then head out on their skis (there is still snow on the ground up there in May) and make their way towards Hardangerjøkulen. Some wear bunads or other finery, depending on the weather. You can stay overnight or take a day trip from Oslo or Bergen. Remember, the train from Oslo takes around four hours. If you want to experience the celebrations with an Arctic touch, why not make your way to Svalbard and bathe in the exuberant atmosphere.
Why May 17?
The celebrations commemorate the day in 1814 (May 17) when Norway got its first constitution following a Norwegian uprising against Swedish regent Carl Johan and his attempt to place Norway under Swedish rule. As a result, May 17 is also known as “Constitution Day”. The Constitution was ratified by the Norwegian Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll on May 16 and dated and signed by Presidential Cabinet the following day. Therefore, May 17 was declared a public holiday and flag day.
Text by Inga Ragnhild Holst