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The 17th of May is Norway Day!
Norway's National day celebrates the signing of the constitution in 1814 and the celebrations are huge. Not to be outshone by other country's national days, Norway's features parades, marching bands, traditional costumes, ice cream and a general sense of raucous celebration.
In many families it is traditional to enjoy a 17th of May breakfast with friends and neighbours of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and lots of champagne!
With a hearty breakfast under their belts, Norwegians are ready to party. The largest parades, usually led by children, can have tens of thousands of spectators, with people cheering, waving flags and clapping along to the marching band's beat. Norwegians dress in their bunad, traditional costumes whose colours and styles indicate ancestry lines and family histories. In Oslo, the Royal Family make an appearance and are greeted by the adoring crowd, while all the buildings are decorated with the Norwegian flag.
Ice cream and hotdogs are on the menu, sold in street carts (most shops are closed) beside the parades and every town centre is packed all day, as games and speeches are carried out.
When you visit, look out for the colourful uniforms of the russ, the children that are soon to graduate from their 13 years of schooling. The colour they wear depends on the graduate’s line of study: Red for the students going into general tertiary education, blue for those going into business, white for medical and social studies, black for engineering and green for agricultural fields.
The russ have parades devoted just to their achievements, with buses and vans blasting modern and traditional music. The air is thick with a heady mixture of exhaustion from too much celebrating and the jubilation on having made it through. Each student will have a russekort, a mock business card made up for the occasion that includes their personal information and usually a joke or two - ask for one to have a little bit of a laugh. The personal information is often a joke in itself and students will exchange and collect the russkorts as momentos.
The 17th of May celebrates the signing of the Constitution of Independence in 1814 - however, Norway was still under Swedish rule and so celebrating the day was seen as an act of rebellion against Sweden. In fact, in 1829 protesters gathered in Oslo to denounce the ban on celebrations that the Swedes had introduced. These protesters clashed with authorities and the event was significant in Norway's battle for independence. Henrik Wergeland played a key role in the resistance over the next few years and helped to transform the 17th of May from a fierce clash against the authorities to a celebration for the children of Norway.
In 1860, the 17th of May became established as a children's parade, with the first parade in Oslo in 1870 (boys only, girls were allowed to join in 1899).
During the Second World War under German occupation the day was not celebrated and in recent years has not been without controversy - it was not until 2007 that the Sámi Flag of the indigenous people of Norway was permitted to be flown.