Grunnlovsdag – Constitution Day.
- Osavegen – Bevare Meg Vel – Syttande mai tog ved Sjukehuset
- Syttande mai tog på Vangen (del 1)
- Syttande mai tog på Vangen (del 2)
Constitution Day is the national day of Norway and is an official public holiday observed on 17 May each year. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as syttende mai («Seventeenth May»), Nasjonaldagen («National Day») or Grunnlovsdagen («Constitution Day»), although the latter is less frequent.
The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on 17 May 1814. The constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom in an attempt to avoid being ceded to Sweden after Denmark–Norway’s devastating defeat in the Napoleonic Wars.
The celebration of this day began spontaneously among students and others from early on. However, Norway was at that time in a personal union with Sweden (following the Convention of Moss in August 1814, by which they shared a monarch as separate nations) and for some years the King of Sweden and Norway was reluctant to allow the celebrations. For a few years during the 1820s, King Karl Johan actually banned it, believing that celebrations like this were, in fact, a kind of protest and disregard—even revolt—against the union. The king’s attitude changed after the Battle of the Square in 1829, an incident which resulted in such a commotion that the king had to allow commemorations on the day. It was, however, not until 1833 that public addresses were held, and official celebration was initiated near the monument of former government minister Christian Krohg, who had spent much of his political life curbing the personal power of the monarch. The address was held by Henrik Wergeland, thoroughly witnessed and accounted for by an informant dispatched by the king himself.
After 1864 the day became more established when the first children’s parade was launched in Christiania, at first consisting only of boys. This initiative was taken by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, although Wergeland made the first known children’s parade at Eidsvoll around 1820. It was only in 1899 that girls were allowed to join in the parade for the first time. In 1905, the union with Sweden was dissolved and Prince Carl of Denmark was chosen to be King of an independent Norway, under the name Haakon VII. Obviously, this ended any Swedish concern for the activities of the National Day.
By historical coincidence, the Second World War ended in Norway nine days before that year’s Constitution Day, on 8 May 1945, when the occupying German forces surrendered. Even if The Liberation Day is an official flag day in Norway, the day is not an official holiday and not widely celebrated. Instead, a new and broader meaning has been added to the celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day on 17 May to reflect the victory over Nazi oppression.
In Oslo, the children’s parade ends in the palace gardens of the Royal Palacewith the Norwegian Royal Familypresent on the balcony. The kindergarten part of a Children’s parade. The Gákti, the traditional clothing of the Sami people, is used by one of the small children.
A noteworthy aspect of the Norwegian Constitution Day is its very non-military nature. All over Norway, children’s parades with an abundance of flags form the central elements of the celebration. Each elementary school district arranges its own parade with marching bands between schools. The parade takes the children through the community, often making stops at homes of senior citizens, war memorials, etc. The longest parade is in Oslo, where some 100,000 people travel to the city centre to participate in the main festivities. This is broadcast on TV every year, with comments on costumes, banners, etc., together with local reports from celebrations around the country. The massive Oslo parade includes some 100 schools, marching bands, and passes the royal palace where the royal family greet the people from the main balcony.
Typically, a school’s children parade will consist of some senior school children carrying the school’s official banner, followed by a handful of other older children carrying full-size Norwegian flags, and the school’s marching band. After the band, the rest of the school children follow with hand-held flags, often with the junior forms first, and often behind self-made banners for each form or even individual class. Nearby kindergartens may also have been invited to join in. As the parade passes, bystanders often join in behind the official parade and follow the parade back to the school.
Depending on the community, the parade may make stops at particular sites along the route, such as a nursing home or war memorial. In Oslo, the parade stops at the Royal Palace while Skaugum, the home of the crown prince, has been a traditional waypoint for parades in Asker.
During the parade, a marching band will play and the children will sing lyrics about the celebration of the National Day. The parade concludes with the stationary singing of the national anthem «Ja, vi elsker dette landet» (typically verses 1, 7 and 8), and the royal anthem «Kongesangen».
In addition to flags, people typically wear red, white and blue ribbons. Although a long-standing tradition, it has lately become more popular for men, women and children to wear traditional outfits, called bunad. The children shout «Hurra!», sing, blow whistles and shake rattles.
All over Norway, memorials to the fallen at wars and to other notable national people are honoured with speeches and wreaths early in the morning. In many places (like in Oslo) at noon, a salute is fired.
In addition to children’s parades, there are parades for the public (borgertog), where every citizen is welcome to join in. These are led by marching bands and often local boy scouts and girl guides, local choirs, NGOs etc. This takes place in the early morning or in the afternoon, before or after the school’s parade.
All parades begin or end with speeches. Both grown-ups and older children are invited to speak. After the parades, there are games for the children, and often much ice cream, pop, sweets and hot-dogs are consumed.
The graduating class from videregående (upper secondary school, sixth form) the Norwegian equivalent of high school, known as russ, has its own celebration on 17 May, staying up all night and making the rounds through the community. The russ also have their own parades later in the day, usually around 4 or 5 pm. In this parade, russ will parade through the street with their russebuss or russebil (russ bus or russ van/car) carrying signs and pickets. They may parody various local and political aspects, although recently this has become less frequent. Russ parades have lately become smaller and smaller due to diligent police discouragement.
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