Thursday, May 17, 2012

Happy Norwegian Constitution Day: Independence, History, and a Party!

Gratulerer med dagen (congratulations on the day)! It's Syttende Mai!

Wait. What?
The 17th of May is Norway’s Constitution Day. It is a celebration on the anniversary of the declaration of the Norwegian Constitution signed in 1814. Denmark had ruled Norway since the early 1500s but because they were on the losing side of the Napoleonic wars they traded Norway to Sweden. Norway took this opportunity to reclaim independence, signing their constitution on the 17 May to govern their country – however, the celebrations only lasted 10 days. Sweden was on the winning side of the Napoleonic wars and used their power to overthrow the Norwegian claim for independence. Norway was forced to enter into an agreement with Sweden which is known as The Personal Union of Sweden and Norway. It wasn’t until 7 June 1905 that the union was dissolved and Norway regained its independence. (However, Norway’s independence was not recognised by the Swedish king until October 26 the same year.)

Today the 17th of May is a national holiday and a celebration of Norwegian traditions and culture. The focus of the day is the Children’s Parade which takes place in cities, towns and villages all over the country.  (From My Little Norway)
The Sons of Norway have a wonderful description of what happens on a typical Syttende mai in Norway.

Syttende mai is also celebrated throughout the world in Norwegian immigrant and ex-pat communities. Unsurprisingly, the celebrations in the upper midwest and Pacific northwest are the largest, with parades, bunad, lefse, pølse, music, kransekake, and lutefisk dinners (which is...well, kind of like a dare, honestly). (Learn more about Syttende Mai around the world at Wikipedia and find a Syttende Mai celebration in the US.)

My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Oslo on Syttende Mai, 2004. All photos are (c) Craig Allyn Rose.

The view down Karl Johans gate from the palace toward the Storthing, May 16, 2004.

The view down Karl Johans gate from the palace toward the Storthing, May 17, 2004.

The children's parade is the centerpiece of the day's celebration.

In Oslo, the parade winds past the Royal Palace, where the King and Queen greet the crowds, and then down to the harbor and the City Hall on Oslofjorden (site of the Nobel Peace Prize awards).

In Oslo, after the parade, it seemed everyone relaxed at sidewalk cafes--both real and makeshift.

Of course, it's a great excuse to wear your bunad!

Even the little ones get in on the bunad action!

Syttende mai was very important for Oleanna and her family in 1905 as well--especially as we meet them in the book, as it's John's last Constitution Day with his family. Plus, there's a new excitement in the air...could it be true independence at last?

So, gratulerer med dagen! Raise a glass of akevitt, or at least maybe a pølse (hot dog), in honor of Norway today!

I'm very happy to announce that the winner of the Oleanna Syttende Mai Norwegian prize package is Meg from A Bookish Affair! Congratulations!


  1. Hurray for Norway!!! I love, love the picture of the little boy in traditional dress waving the flag with the woman. Great pictures!

    I'm so excited I won!

  2. Happy Constitution Day to you!! Love those photographs...