Much like the 4th of July in the United States, Norway’s Syttende Mai (17th of May) holiday celebrates national pride. Commemorating the signing of Norway’s Constitution in 1814, it is a day where everyone takes part in the fun.
The holiday begins with special Syttende Mai breakfasts, sometimes potlucks shared among neighbors and friends with freshly baked bread and smoked salmon on the menu, and often with a little champagne to start the day! Later in the day, hot dogs and ice cream are a special part of the Syttende Mai celebration.
On Syttende Mai, many Norwegians wear brightly colored traditional clothing, called bunad. There are hundreds of varieties of intricately embroidered bunad,complete with bonnets and shawls, each representing different communities and parts of the country. Norwegians can wear bunad representing where their family is from or adopt the costume of the place to which they have the strongest attachment. Each year, new designs are created, but must go through Norway’s National Bunad Council to be approved as official bunad. Otherwise, they are simply festive costumes.
Children’s parades are a big part of Syttende Mai and are held in towns and cities around the country, and streets are lined with the red, white, and blue of Norway’s flag. The country’s largest parade is in Oslo. As participants pass the royal palace, are greeted by Norway’s royal family.
Syttende Mai is also a party for students who are about to graduate after 13 years of schooling. Known as russ, these students can be identified by their decorated red and blue overalls and their festive behavior. They even hold their own parades complete with buses and vans playing loud music, where they hand out russkortes, special calling cards with their photos and jokes on them.
If you visit Norway for Syttende Mai, keep in mind that it is a national holiday and that most shops and offices are closed, and getting around can be difficult. Also, don’t forget to wear your red, white, and blue, and have a great time!