So you’ve made it to Norway and just realized you will be here during one of the most popular national holidays in the country: Norwegian Constitution Day. This is a great opportunity to see another country’s way of celebrating its independence. Sure you may have celebrated a similar holiday in your own home country but each place has its unique way of doing things.
I was able to experience this significant event during my tour of Norway, so I got to see how the cities and smaller towns were able to celebrate and even partook in some of the fun activities that occurred during this joyful and festive event.
Constitution Day History
Prior to this, Norway was part of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway, which also included 2 nearby Duchy territories. Also known as “Syttende Mai”, Constitution Day started on May 17th, 1814. It marks the signing of the Norwegian Constitution during the time Norway had been ceded to the neighboring country of Sweden after the Napoleonic War.
It was inspired by the Declaration of Independence in the United States as well as the political and societal changes that occurred during the French Revolution. The hope of the people was for them to become an independent sovereign state. They were considered a separate kingdom on it’s own, but shared the monarchy with Denmark.
How is Constitution Day Celebrated?
Dress up in your finest Bunad
With a celebrated holiday it’s best to put on your finest clothing. This piece of Norwegian traditional clothing is known as “Bunad”. The folk costume is worn by elders, adults, and children. You will find that each piece of clothing is colorful and vibrant. Most keep it in the back of the closest and only bring it out to show for this festive holiday or special occasions such as a wedding or religious occasion.
You can compare it’s cultural significance to the Scottish Kilts or Japanese Kimonos. Each region and town or village of Norway may focus on different colors and designs to showcase their own ancestry and show that appreciation and loyalty to the public. You have dark and deep to light shades of blue, classic pure white, and a distinct red just to name a few.
These also come with accessories. Pieces of silver are used to help decorate the full ensemble. This includes cuff links, broches, pins, belts, and necklaces. The cost varies due to the quality of the material and the fact that these are tailor made. So you may want to think about how much you are willing to spend if you do choose to purchase one.
Enjoy the Constitution Day parades
You will find most of the day filled with a number of parades. These are represented by local community organizations, schools, live bands, and just everyday citizens looking to participate. The national flag of Norway is displayed everywhere you go, from houses and places of business to motor vehicles and in people’s hands.
In the more rural farm areas of Norway, you will find people coming in droves to the central town to celebrate with their neighbors and communities. The singular main street is filled to the brim with onlookers and participants in the parade activities.
If you can spend a few days in Oslo, there is the opportunity to watch an amazing parade move from the Oslo Royal Palace all the way to where the Norwegian Parliament is held. You may even have an opportunity to see a few members of the Royal Family of Norway.
Look out for the Russ
The young adults graduating the equivalent of high school in Norway celebrate Constitution Day just a little bit differently than other countries. Known as Russ, you can easily spot them in jumpsuits of blue, green, red, and black. That is because they are participating in Russefeiring, a traditional celebration as they enter their final semester before heading off to college or employment. It just so happens the last day of the festivities is also Constitution Day.
Find them driving around in rented buses and vans adorned with decorations and banners pumping out loud current music. Contests are thrown to see who has the best vehicle in terms of themed interiors, sound systems, and artistic concepts. Some of them even have sponsors to support this rite of passage.
Others who do or do not partake with vans and buses can be found drinking and partying through the city streets, and just looking for an all around good time of revelry.
A souvenir you can acquire during this period is the russekort, or printed business cards out with their contact information and sometimes a slogan or joke. They will hand these out to any who ask for them or just as they make their way through the multiple celebrations.
Enjoy the food and community festivities
Once the parades are over, it’s time to enjoy some time with the locals who celebrate in a great way. The streets will be filled with families and friends who are ready to enjoy the evening with food and drink.
On Constitution Day nearly all businesses are closed for the day. But not the restaurants of course who prepare for the night with plenty of outdoor seating and music to keep the people entertained. During the parades you can be served with ice cream, waffles, and hotdogs but you may want to enjoy more traditional Norwegian cuisine
May 17th is a great day to find yourself in Norway. The traditional parts of Constitution Day and it’s celebrations vary from region to region but you will see a strong sense of community and camaraderie in the people during Constitution Day.
If you are alone and not sure what to do ask local guides and residents on recommendations for where to celebrate Constitution Day and how. You may find something surprising cozy and quaint just spending time with the locals as part of the community. That’s part of the whole reason you want to travel is to find these kind of opportunities to really immerse yourself into another culture.