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‘Syttende Mai’: understanding Norway’s national day like a local

Norway’s unique national day traditions explained

Join us as we take you on a vibrant journey through Norway’s national day, Syttende Mai – which translates to the seventeenth of May. Understand the heartwarming traditions, historical significance, traditional foods and the inclusive spirit that make this day a unique celebration of unity, joy, and national pride. Whether you’re a visitor looking to partake in the festivities or simply a curious reader, this comprehensive guide will help you experience Norway’s national day just like a local.

Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide
Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide

What makes Norway’s national day so special?

Every 17th of May, a unique celebration unfolds in Norway. This date marks the national day of Norway, or Constitution Day, a holiday filled with joy, unity and an unmatched display of national pride. It stands as a testament to the country’s rich history and vibrant culture, marking the signing of the Norwegian constitution at Eidsvoll in 1814.

Unlike many countries that celebrate their national day with military parades, Norway’s national day revolves around children and community. It’s a day steeped in tradition, from the Children’s Parades that fill the streets to the ubiquitous wearing of “bunads”, the traditional Norwegian dress. The holiday also serves as a celebration of spring, occurring when the picturesque landscapes of Norway are in full bloom.

Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide
Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide

What’s a typical national day like in Norway?

The anticipation of Norway’s national day, Syttende Mai, begins with the dawn. As sunlight filters through windows, Norwegians across the country prepare for the festivities. The day commences with a Champagne breakfast, where families and friends indulge in a spread of local delicacies. Laughter and chatter fill the air, setting a jubilant mood for the day.

Post breakfast, it’s time to dress up. Norwegians often wear “bunads”, traditional costumes, or smart outfits reflecting the colours of the Norwegian flag. The highlight of the day, the Children’s Parade, follows. Schools march together, their progress heralded by school bands. The parade radiates unity, with children’s smiles and waving flags capturing the spirit of Norway. After the parade, community events featuring games, live music and food stalls offer enjoyment for the whole family. Hot dogs and ice cream are popular treats.

Evenings are spent in communal meals with family and friends, sharing gratitude and camaraderie. These gatherings vary, ranging from barbecues to seafood feasts. As the day concludes, a leisurely stroll amidst the joyous atmosphere and the sight of Norwegian flags flying high is a common endnote. The setting sun, often late in May, ushers families home with echoes of the national anthem. Syttende Mai unfolds in Norway, a day of unity, shared identity and celebration of the country’s past, present and future. This day encapsulates a profound sense of belonging, pride and joy that defines the spirit of the 17th of May.

Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide

What’s the historical significance of Norway’s national day?

Norway’s national day dates back to 1814 when the country signed its constitution on 17th May, paving the way for its eventual independence. Initially, the day was a solemn event marked by political speeches, but over time, it has transformed into a vibrant, inclusive celebration.

The holiday is also symbolic of Norway’s resilience and determination. For instance, during the German occupation in WWII, wearing a red hat – a subtle nod to the Norwegian flag – became a quiet act of resistance on national day. Today, these historical undertones add a depth of meaning to the joyous celebrations, making it a truly heartfelt occasion for the people of Norway.

Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide
Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide

What are the traditional foods of Norway’s national day?

National day is a culinary delight, featuring a smorgasbord of traditional Norwegian dishes. The most ubiquitous are hot dogs and ice cream, a surprising favourite that dates back to when such treats were considered a luxury. On this day, sales of hot dogs can quadruple, and it’s not uncommon for children to compete in how many ice creams they can eat.

Beyond these treats, many families start the day with a Champagne breakfast, a lavish spread that, despite its name, often includes non-alcoholic sparkling wine, especially when children are involved. Throughout the day, dishes like “rømmegrøt” (sour cream porridge) and “fenalår” (salted, dried and cured leg of lamb) might be enjoyed. Bakeries also prepare for the event, offering special pastries such as “bløtkake” (a traditional Norwegian cream cake), “kringle” (a pretzel-shaped pastry), and “kransekake” (a towering ring cake made from almonds).

Norway’s national day Suttende Mai guide

How can visitors participate in the celebrations?

Visitors to Norway on the 17th of May will find themselves swept up in the joyous atmosphere. Participating in the celebrations is a fantastic way to immerse oneself in Norwegian culture. As a visitor, you’re more than welcome to watch the children’s parades, a highlight of the day’s festivities. In Oslo, a great viewing spot is along Karl Johans gate, the main street that leads up to the Royal Palace.

When it comes to attire, if you don’t have a bunad, don’t worry. Many Norwegians and visitors alike opt for smart casual clothing, often with a touch of red, white and blue – the colours of the Norwegian flag. You could also buy a small flag to wave during the parade.

Sampling the traditional food is another way visitors can partake in the celebrations. Try a hot dog or an ice cream, and if you’re invited to a Champagne breakfast, don’t miss it! Lastly, remember to enjoy the day. The spirit of Norway’s national day is one of unity, joy and community, and everyone is invited to be a part of it.

Ålesund Møre og Romsdal Norway travel design guide

What is the enduring significance of Norway’s national day?

Norway’s national day stands as a testament to the country’s unity, resilience and boundless joy. It’s a day where tradition and pride blend seamlessly, from the children-led parades and the display of regional “bunads” to the universal enjoyment of hot dogs and ice cream. With its unique traditions and inclusive spirit, the 17th of May shines a light on what makes Norway truly special.

Beyond the vibrant celebrations and the sea of Norwegian flags, the day is also a reminder of Norway’s historical journey. It’s a day to remember the signing of a constitution that laid the foundation for the Norway we know today: a country that champions equality, democracy and the well-being of all its residents. As such, national day is not just a celebration, but a reaffirmation of these values that continue to shape Norway’s present and future.

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