Brazilians have their carnival, the Irish Saint Patrick’s Day. Norway’s answer? On 17 May, they celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. In Norway, Constitution Day is HUGE. Indeed, since I arrived in Bergen in August, I have been told about this day so many times by excited and proud Norwegians, and have been looking forward to May 17th throughout the year.
While many countries celebrate their national day with a military parade, Norway’s 17 May is more of a party for everyone, especially children. Before taking to the streets, many like to gather for a 17 May breakfast – often a pot luck with friends and neighbours – with freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and champagne. I enjoyed a lovely breakfast with my friends, though our budget certainly did not stretch to champagne! I must note that this breakfast started at 8am!! Most Norwegians even start at 7am!!
We then headed to the city centre to watch the parade at 10am. Bergen celebrates Norway’s National Day with one of Norway’s largest parades through the city centre as well as a series of celebrations in and around Bergen. A unique feature in Bergen is the city’s many traditional and special “Buekorps”, which are the traditional drummer brigades. It was a patriotic, but very inclusive and joyous atmosphere. It was also sunny and the hottest day of the year so far! Very grateful to not be stood in the usual Bergen rain.
The day is also an opportunity to show off one’s bunad, Norway’s traditional costume worn by both men and women. Like a Scottish kilt, there are many variations, with colours and styles indicating where in Norway the owner’s ancestry lies. I couldn’t believe my ears when I discovered that these dresses cost €2,000-€4,000! In fact, there is even a special insurance policy that Norwegians take out for these dresses.
Constitution Day was also a good opportunity to spot teenagers in red, blue, black, or green jumpsuits. These are members of the graduating class who are in their final year of upper secondary school, called russ. Most of them look exhausted by 17 May, not so much from studying for their exams as partying with their peers. Indeed, it is traditional to hire a bus, decorate it, blare music and party during the whole month of May (while exams are on!) for Norwegian high school students. The TV series SKAM is great if you are interested in this tradition. It is very similar to Skins but set in Oslo.
We had a BBQ for lunch by sea at our student halls, followed by games in the park, and then fireworks in the evening in the city centre. The day started at 8am and finished around midnight! Overall, this was a very special day to be in Norway and I feel honoured to have been there for these celebrations.