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May 17th - The Norwegian constitution day (by Private)

First, let me quickly take you through some Norwegian history so you know what exactly it is that we celebrate.


Norway had been under the Danish king since 1380, first as a part of the Kalmar union with both Denmark and Sweden where the Danish king came to be the dominant. The Swedes broke out of the union in 1523, and after the introduction of autocracy in 1660 all power had been lying with the Danish king in Copenhagen.


Denmark-Norway, or the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway, had been on the losing side during the Napoleonic wars, and the peace contract between Denmark, The United Kingdom and The Kingdom of Sweden, called the Treaty of Kiel, which was signed January 14th 1814, stated that Norway were to be united with Sweden, though no one thought to ask the Norwegians. Just a month later, on February 16th 1814, Christian Frederik, the Danish crown prince, called 21 noblemen to a meeting at Eidsvoll to discuss his ideas of Norwegian independence. Christian Frederik originally wanted to make himself king of Norway, but the assembly thought that the Norwegian people had the right to decide their ruler and only them, and that the Danish king could not just give Norway over to Sweden nor decide who were to rule in an independent Norwegian monarchy.


On April 10th an assembly of 112 men from all over Norway met at Eidsvoll to write the Norwegian constitution and vote on a new king. Already on May 17th the constitution was finished and signed, and they chose Christian Frederik as the new Norwegian king. A lot of the content in the constitution has changed since the first version was signed in 1814, but May 17th is still the day celebrated as the constitution day in Norway.

📷: The assembly at Eidsvoll, 1814

The reason why the men at Eidsvoll needed to write the constitution so quickly was because they had to do it before the Swedish crown prince, Karl Johan, came back from the continent with his army. And they did manage to finish it just in time since Karl Johan came home May 28th that year. He quickly wanted to implement the union between Sweden and Norway decided in Kiel, and a few days later a representative from the british government and four other commissioners from world power states came to Norway to negotiate with the newly elected Norwegian king.


The negotiation ended without any new agreements, and Karl Johan initiated a military attack starting a war between Sweden and Norway. Christian Frederik quickly realised that the war could not be won and that a union with Sweden was unavoidable, so when Karl Johan came with the proposal that Norway could keep its constitution with just minor changes in the union, he accepted, despite the Norwegian government’s protests. The Norwegian independence in 1814 was thereby short lived.


The agreement was signed in the Convention of Moss on August 14th, which led to the Norwegian parliament choosing Charles XIII of Sweden as the Norwegian king. Karl Johan was king in the two countries from 1818 until his death in 1844.


The personal union between Sweden and Norway lasted until the Norwegian parliament declared independence in 1905.

Gratulerer med dagen to all Norwegians here on vp!


This day marks the Norwegian national day and is a public holiday celebrated with non-military parades, songs and hurrays everywhere in Norway from the largest cities to the smallest towns, and even on mountaintops! May 17th, as it is simply referred to by Norwegians, is also celebrated by Norwegian communities all over the world. The day marks that the first Norwegian constitution was signed on this day in 1814, which was the beginning of our road to independence.

For the first few years there were only small private gatherings on the constitution day. Throughout the 1820s, getting to celebrate the constitution day had been a rally, especially among students. On the the 10th year anniversary of the constitution in 1824, some people indicated that they wanted a bigger celebration of the constitution day, but king Karl Johan’s resentment towards the day controlled the event.


Karl Johan disliked celebrations of the constitution day because he believed it payed tribute to his rival, Christian Frederik, and he therefore prohibited the day to be celebrated at all in 1828. This led to people sharing song booklets with national songs during spring 1829 leading up to the 17th, which made the authorities nervous because they knew they would not be able to control spontaneous celebrations of the constitution day.


Torgslaget


Norway had gotten two steamships during this time, and it was not uncommon to welcome the ships with cheering. One of them was expected in Christiania (Oslo) around 6 pm May 17th 1829, which the authorities tried to stop without luck. It was a nice Sunday, and many were taking a stroll outside to enjoy the day. Once the ship showed up in the distance the boys on the streets started shouting “hurray!” and many students quickly joined in. A man named Henrik Wergeland (who later has gotten credit for a lot of what today’s celebrations of the national day consists of) stood in his student uniform by the fortress and shouted “Long live Constitution!” as Constitution was the name of the ship, but he could also have been referring to the constitution of 1814. People started singing different national songs while walking towards the town square, and the celebration escalated quickly. The local police tried to get people to go home, but most of them denied, and throughout the evening many police officers even changed sides and joined the celebrations.


The authorities managed to find a law against the celebrations, as they believed it to be rebelling, and they got a man to read this law out loud at the town square to get people to go home. But few actually heard him and almost none went home. Then the governor went to the extent to put in the cavalry, to which people reacted with shock and disbelief. Soldiers from the fortress were armed, and although no shots were fired a few people got injured in the riot.This event called Torgslaget (“battle of the square”) led to a breakthrough in the celebrations of the national day as the king had to give in and let people celebrate.


The constitution day was celebrated at the parliament for the first time in 1836, and from that year May 17th was officially called Norway’s national day, though the event did not include citizen parades until after king Karl Johan’s death in 1844.


Traditions are formed


The man I mentioned earlier, Henrik Wergeland, who stood by the fortress shouting “Long live Constitution!”, was a poet and author, and it was through his poems and songs that people got a feel for the national day. Decades later, the national day got another proponent, a man named Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and he is the man behind the initiative for the very first children’s parade which took place in 1870. In the beginning he called it “smaaguttenes flagtog” (“the little boys’ flag parade”), which consisted of almost 2000 school boys waving Norwegian flags through the streets. This idea quickly spread to schools all over the country and was the beginning of the children’s parades as we know them today. First time girls walked in the parade was in 1889.


The children’s parade has played a central role in the celebration of the national day ever since, and every year since 1906 the royal family have been waving to the parade from the balcony of the royal palace in Oslo. The tradition of russ (high school graduates) also started around the same time, and the first hats, called “russeluer”, were introduced in 1905 and have made a mark on the day ever since. Though how the graduates celebrate around the national day have drastically changed over the last century.


The only exception was during world war II where May 17 parades and the use of the Norwegian flag was forbidden.


Something non-Norwegians might be connecting our national day with, is seeing people, especially women, in colourful traditional costumes with intricate embroideries. These folk costumes are called bunads and you can find them all over Norway with variations in style and colours depending on what region the bunad is from.


The tradition of these folk costumes is fairly modern, opposed to what people might think. The bunad as we know it today has its roots from the national romanticism in the 19th century, but the dress shapes and patterns are inspired by older traditional folk costumes. New variations of the existing folk costumes, and even brand new ones, are constantly being designed and some argue that there are over 450 different costumes that goes under the category “bunad” today.


Bunads today are richly adorned and thus only used for special occasions. Many people only use their bunad once a year, on May 17th, though they can also be used at weddings, important birthdays and religious events such as confirmations or even on Christmas Eve.


The main body of the bunad is made out of wool, while the shirt is of linen or cotton. Aprons and other additional details such as hats, capes, shawls and bags varies from bunad to bunad. The bunads are embellished with intricate embroideries, often in a flower pattern, and buckles, buttons, brooches and other jewellery are made out of metal, silver or gold. Some, especially male bunads, also have belonging blades or even actual knives.


📷
: Girls posing in different bunads from all over Norway in front of the royal palace in Oslo

May 17th is a day filled with joy in every nook and cranny all over Norway. You will find flags and smiling Norwegians everywhere you go! But what makes the Norwegian celebration of the national day so special is its non-military nature and the idea to “celebrate the future”, the children, which is why the day also is referred to as “children’s day”.


Parades


The children’s parade is the most central event of the day. Each district arranges their own parade, and the route takes them through the district often making several stops at places such as retirement homes and memorials to hold speeches and put down or give flowers. The parade always include marching bands, both from schools and professionals, and their music is what sets the tone of the day for many Norwegians.


The different elementary schools walking in the parade each have their own official banner in front followed by a handful of students carrying full sized Norwegian flags and then, if the school has one, their marching band. After that all forms and individual classes starting with the youngest comes in groups separated by a handmade banner. Some places the oldest children walking in the parade are 7th graders, while other places teenagers up to 10th grade can join. The children, carrying small flags, whistles, windmills and other national day themed toys, sing rehearsed songs during the whole parade and are also making a lot of noise in between each song shouting “hipp, hipp, hurra!” and blowing their whistles. Kindergartens also often join towards the end of the parade.


The longest parade takes place in Oslo and is featuring over a hundred schools from the Oslo district, but also a few chosen schools from all over the country that changes each year. The parade goes by the royal palace where the royal family is waving, and the whole event is live broadcasted on TV featuring interviews and commentary.


Varying from region to region there might also be a separate citizen parade later in the day featuring sports clubs and other organisations.


Russ


The high school graduates, called russ, finish their often month long celebration with a last hurray on the national day. This is when they wear their hats showing off all their knots and give out the rest of their russekort (business cards for russ often including jokes) that children try to collect as many of as possible. Some places the russ get to join the children’s parade, other places they walk in the citizen parade and some places they even have their own parade.


Food


Food traditions varies from family to family and can be everything from sour cream porridge often with sugar and cinnamon on top and salted cured meat with scrambled eggs to a buffet table where all guests bring a dish of their choice or some even have a barbeque in the spring sun. To finish the day a gateau or pavlova with berries often decorated with the Norwegian flag are favourites among Norwegians countrywide.


And on this day children can eat as much ice cream as they want!


May 17th all over the world


Norwegians, or people with norwegian heritage, like to celebrate the country’s national day even though they are not actually spending the day in Norway. They eat norwegian food, sing national songs, play typical national day games, dress up in bunads if they have one, and some places there are even big communities arranging parades and bigger events on the day!

_______________


This was just a little taste of what you can encounter if you ever end up visiting Norway on the constitution day. I hope you maybe learned something new, or, for Norwegians, got a little reminder of why we celebrate like we do.


Have an amazing day and….




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Comment on the article May 17th - The Norwegian constitution day.
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Godis wrote on 18-05 19:59:
Godis wrote:
Very interesting article and very nice layout!
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Wren2012 wrote on 18-05 02:52:
Wren2012 wrote:
I really liked this article. 
And the layout is fantastic. I like the clickable pics a lot. 
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Cimorene wrote on 17-05 23:45:
Cimorene wrote:
Glædelig 17. maj!

This was an interesting read, there were a lot of the history I didn't know about!
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Petite wrote on 17-05 22:35:
Petite wrote:
Meowmere wrote:
interesting! also, Poland and Norway have their constitution day in the same month
Ouh, I had no idea!
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Petite wrote on 17-05 22:34:
Petite wrote:
Libertas wrote:
Happy constitution day! ^^

Really good article, I barely knew anything about the national day of Norway but now I know a lot more! It is so much different from how Sweden celebrate too! Really interesting! <3 @Petite 

Amazing layout too! <3 @Era 
Thank you! Yes, it's so interesting to see how two countries that are as close, geographically and otherwise, as Sweden and Norway can be so different in so many ways.
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Private wrote on 17-05 19:29:
Emiliaaaaaaa wrote:
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Krystle wrote on 17-05 16:28:
Krystle wrote:
This was a really interesting read and I love the layout!
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TamaraSensuela wrote on 17-05 15:01:
TamaraSensuela wrote:
Now the article about Finland's indepence day on the 6th of December.
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Private wrote on 17-05 13:10:
Meowmere wrote:
interesting! also, Poland and Norway have their constitution day in the same month
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Private wrote on 17-05 12:14:
Chlorine wrote:
What a good, informative  text and beautiful layout! 
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Libertas wrote on 17-05 09:23:
Libertas wrote:
Happy constitution day! ^^

Really good article, I barely knew anything about the national day of Norway but now I know a lot more! It is so much different from how Sweden celebrate too! Really interesting! <3 @Petite 

Amazing layout too! <3 @Era 



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