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23 September 2017

Norway National Day

Norway National Day It is Norway's biggest day of national celebration, commemorating the signing of the country's first constitution in 1814 and its release from Danish rule after 400 years of subjugation. The celebration of 17th May started as a private party in the town of Trondheim in the 1820s, but took on more of a public nature when in 1823 the event was reported in a newspaper.

In 1827, May 17th was publicly celebrated in the capital Christiania (now Oslo) for the first time. The celebration caused political strife since Norway was in union with Sweden after the Napoleonic wars and right up to 1905. The Swedish king Carl Johan regarded the 17th of May celebrations as a demonstration and it was not until after his death, in 1844, that the day was celebrated in full freedom.

The citizens' procession, in which only men participated, was part of the celebrations from an early stage. In 1870 the day was marked by a procession of children, on the initiative of the distinguished writer and politician, Bjrnstjerne Bjrnson. In 1889 girls also took part, initially without flags, but with flowers in their hair. In subsequent years more and more women joined the processions.

In the inter-war years, there was political dispute between the working and the middle classes as to how May 17th should be celebrated. The workers saw it as a symbol of the bourgeoisie and refused to take part. During WWII, the German occupiers forbade any celebration of 17th May. After the liberation in 1945, Constitution Day gained a whole new significance, one which it has held to this day.

May 17th is a political and patriotic day which is marked by flags, music national dress, parades, speeches and the laying of wreaths on monuments. The royal family symbolises the unity of the people through greeting the procession of Oslo schoolchildren from the balcony of the royal palace. Church services are also held.

Constitution Day is above all the children's day, with the schools as natural assembly points. The flag is hoisted in the schoolyard and the children walk in the processions under the special banner of their school. In the afternoon games and entertainment are arranged in the schools for both the children and their families.

The pupils who have completed their 12 years of schooling, the russ (from the Latin cornua depositurus = to put aside one's horns) start their celebration on May 1st but form a colourful contribution to the 17th of May processions in their red or blue outfits. They add a more light-hearted element of carnival to the procession and the adults generally turn a blind eye to their noisy and boisterous behaviour.

This is the day to wear new clothes but the bunad, or national dress is becoming more and more universal on 17th May. Each region of the country has its own version of the bunad with which to mark both national and local affiliation.

There are a number of food traditions linked to 17th May. Adults may start the day with various kinds of pickled herring washed down with akevitt, a strong distilled spirit. Many eat traditional dishes such as smoked salmon, sour cream porridge and cold, cured meats.

Large amounts of hot dogs, mineral water and ice cream are consumed, as well as egg-flip which has a long tradition as 17th May fare. When the poet Henrik Wergeland lay on his deathbed in 1844, reminiscing over the unveiling of the Kroghsttten monument (dedicated to the president of the national assembly Christian Krogh) on 17th May 1833 and his speech for the day, he recalled "all the egg-flips I had to swallow throughout the day".

The traditions linked to 17th May are so strong that Norwegians living abroad as well as their descendants continue to celebrate it.

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