On the 17th of May

By Nia Thomas, University of Bergen, Norway

From quirky Christmas festivities to its rich Viking heritage, Norway is a country packed with culture. Of course, every nation has its own personal traditions. However, the lifestyle and customs within Norwegian society differ from the rest of the world through its unique approach to celebrating its deep-rooted and brilliant history. This is especially reflected every year on the country’s “birthday”, May 17th.

The 17th May celebrations date back to the year 1814 when the signing of its constitution declared Norway an independent country. The major festivities mark a commemoration of the freedom gained from its separation from the earlier Sweden-Denmark union. The celebrations originally began amongst students, an important aspect demonstrated by the fact that even today, parades are led by children rather than the military.

I have been so lucky to share the day here and witness, as well as partake in, Constitution Day. Here are some things I did, and the highlights:

  1. Champagne Brunch

It’s traditional to wake up early and have a nice breakfast to start the day. Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, and chocolate brownies were prepared as I sat down at 9am, with a cocktail. We’re on a student budget, so champagne was not on the table. We all brought something homemade, an inclusive and wholesome detail. It was especially lovely to see my friend Sunniva dressed in her traditional gown which represents her personal and distinctive cultural background. I have attached a photo of her wearing the bunad.

2. The Parade

We entered a packed bus to travel to the town center at around 1pm. When we arrived in the busy city, the weather was 20 degrees and the sun was bright, and everything seemed magnified under a warm glow. The outfits were bursting with colours and patterns, mirrored by the millions of flowers surrounding us. There were too many smells of perfume and foods to describe, and too many events to keep track of. The music was loud and people were singing. But the most noticeable feature was the sea of red, white, and blue. Everywhere my gaze fell, in every space available, there seemed to be a Norwegian flag flying. Everyone looked so happy.

3. Food and Games

We decided to go back home for an afternoon break. We ate leftovers from brunch and played card games. We could still hear celebrations outside, and this felt like nice background noise whilst we sat down to shelter from the evening heat. Outside, we could see a different garden party in every backyard.

4. The Fireworks

I was tired by 9pm. After a full day of beauty and culture, I went home. But, I stayed awake to watch the finale of Norway’s birthday. At 11pm, I stood on the balcony with my flatmates and watched the dazzling fireworks explode. The colours were dramatic and blinding, and they contrasted with the calm deep blue of the night sky; watching them felt like an ecstatic finish to a momentous day.

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