by Sienna Bentley
The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll the 17th of May in 1814, but at the time Norway was in a union with Sweden and for a few years in the 1820s King Karl Johan of Sweden actually banned the celebrations of the signing because the Swedes saw it as a provocation against Sweden and their royal family. The celebrations held on the 17th of May become a larger event when Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (the writer of the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”) took initiative to a children’s parade in Oslo in the 1860s.
Wednesday the 17th of May 2017 marks the most recent Constitution Day in Norway (Syttende mai (bokmål)), commemorating the signing of the constitution on that date in 1814. The celebrations are unique - marching bands, street parties, parades, traditional costumes and a ton of ice cream. While many countries around the world celebrate their national day with a military parade, Syttende Mai is a party for everyone, especially for the children. The children’s parades entail marching, waving homemade Norwegian flags and carrying school banners. Children in Oslo pass the Royal Palace, where the royal family wave to them from the balcony.
Before they head out into the streets, many Norwegians will have a special breakfast which is often a potluck with their friends and neighbours, consisting of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and champagne. There is a custom of “eat what you like”, so really it’s mostly junk food, but what is traditionally eaten at the family table often depends on where people are living. Near the sea and rivers, eating salmon and trout is quite common but in the mountain villages, it can be rømmegrøt og spekkemat (porridge and cured meat - it’s better than it sounds, I promise).
Men and women take this day as an opportunity to wear their bunad, which is the traditional costume. It is common to wear a bunad at various celebrations such as folk dances and weddings but especially during the May 17th National Day celebrations. They vary greatly, the different colours, styles and embroidery are to indicate where in Norway the owner's ancestry lies.
However, for the Russ students, they wear particular uniforms and hats to distinguish them as celebrating the end of their school year, and the colour of the uniform matches each graduate’s line of study (red for those going onto higher education and university, blue for those going into business, white for medics and black for engineering). Russ students typically wear these uniforms all day all night for the ENTIRE russefeiring (Russ celebration period). The Russ celebrations start during spring and end on May 17th, so these students are usually exhausted by the time the national day rolls around. Russ cards (russekort) are mock business cards that the Russ students (graduating student) hand out to anyone that asks for them. It contains a picture, contact details, and a slogan. Usually the picture is a funny picture or a drawing of the Russ, a picture of a celebrity, or just a funny picture in general. The names and contact details are often spoofs and the slogans are often jokes.
This is a truly special time to be in Norway and you should definitely go and see it for yourselves and get involved with the locals as they will be more than happy to include you in their celebrations, but don't expect to get much else done that day – mostly everything else will be closed on the 17th of May.