17 May - Constitution day
17 May is the Norwegian Constitution Day. It is an official holiday that is celebrated with children's parades both small and large. Everyone is more than welcome to join the celebration, so bring a Norwegian flag and join the fun!
Norway declared independence as a kingdom with the constitution that was signed 17 May in 1814. The constitution was an attempt to avoid being ceased by Sweden after the defeat of Denmark-Norway in the Napoleonic Wars. The plan did not succeed and in August 1814 the Union between Sweden and Norway was a fact. However, the 17 May continued to be celebrated sporadically in various parts of the country. The Union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905 and Prince Carl of Denmark was chosen to be King of an independent Norway, under the name Haakon VII.
The celebration in Oslo
The biggest parade takes place in Oslo city centre, and includes pupils from over 120 schools accompanied by marching brass bands. The parade marches through the city centre and past the Royal Palace, where they are greeted by the Royal Family. Only children are allowed to join the parade, and participation must be administered by their school. The brass bands play all kinds of music, but they will all play the national anthem: Ja, vi elsker. You should try to learn it, but keep in mind that the lyrics are difficult to get right even for native speakers!
It is common to start the celebration with a festive breakfast with friends and then watch the parade. Many schools welcome local residents to games and entertainment in their school yards after the main parade.
Read the official programme for the celebration in Oslo
Traditional folk costume
People dress in their finest clothes for 17 May. You will see people wearing dresses and suits, and many will wear the national costume, called bunad. The Norwegian bunad is a traditional folk costume worn by men and women. This colorful and intricately designed attire typically includes skirt or trousers, a shirt, a vest, and a jacket, all made from high-quality wool or silk fabric. The bunad is often adorned with various decorative elements, such as embroidery, silver buttons, and hand-sewn appliques, which are unique to each region of Norway.
Wearing a bunad is a way to showcase your heritage and cultural identity, and it is a beloved tradition that has been passed down through generations. There are many local variations from different parts of the country, and there is a lot of tradition and handicraft behind it. People are generally very happy to tell you where their bunad is from. There are around 200 types of bunad in Norway – around 80% of women have one, while every fifth man own one and the number is increasing.
Bunad is being used within every age group, the education, social status and the place of birth do not influence the choice. Recently more and more choose a bunad according to their liking purely by the visual beauty. It has also become very popular to make your own bunad. On May 17th, thousands of people in Oslo proudly wear their bunads.
Popular breakfast items are scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, cured meat, cheese and beef patty.
During the day hot dogs, ice cream and soda are the most popular. It is said that on this day the kids are allowed as many ice creams as they want. The traditional sour cream porridge (Rømmegrøt) and cured meat are very popular around the country, but maybe not as common in Oslo.
If you plan to eat out in a resturant for lunch or dinner, you should definitley book a table in advance!
The Norwegian tradition known as "Russ" is a rite of passage for high school students who are about to complete their final exams. From April to the 17th of May, the graduating students from upper secondary schools are Russ, where they celebrate that they finish 13 years of school. You can recognize them by their red or blue overalls or pants, covered in letters, badges and patches.
The Russ tradition involves a series of activities and challenges, such as driving around in specially decorated vans or buses, participating in pranks and dares, and attending parties and concerts. They will all have personal cards “russekort” that they hand out to their friends family and the kids, even if they do not always have kid-friendly content.
You can often hear the russbuses driving arround the city playing loud music, it is called "rulle". The Russ tradition is a unique, both cherished and highly discussed aspect of Norwegian culture that has been celebrated for over a century.
Despite its reputation for rowdiness and excess, the Russ tradition is also a way for young people to bond with their classmates and create lasting memories before they move on to the next phase of their lives.