10 Unique Facts about Syttende Mai

May 17th is the Norwegian National Day, better known as Syttende Mai. Syttende Mai marks the day Norway’s Constitution was signed in 1814 that declared Norway an independent country. You can watch a 2018 celebration here.


Here are 10 fun facts about Syttende Mai, according to Aftenposten (and thankfully translated by Business Insider Nordic):

1. Constitution Day was celebrated for a long time on November 4th. Why?

Because about a month following May 17, 1814, Norway was joined into a union with Sweden, which lasted for almost a century. Because of this some parts of the constitution had to be changed, including a clause that would hinder Norway’s exit from the union. That was when the new national day became November 4th. When Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905, the celebration resumed on May 17th.

2. For the first decades, only boys were allowed to participate in the children’s parade.

When the first children’s parades began as part of the national celebrations in 1869 in Oslo, only boys were included. Two decades later, in 1889, girls were allowed to participate in what is now one of the most popular part of May 17.

3. The first recorded Syttende Mai celebrations were in… Denmark. Why?

The former interim king of Norway, Christian Fredrik, was sent into an internal exile to Denmark in 1815 to serve as a General Governor of Fyn. Danes liked what Fredrik had accomplished in Norway (and he would eventually become king of Denmark), so Fredrik arranged festivities for Syttende Mai in 1815. This was the first documented celebration of the Norwegian Constitution Day. Norway, now in a union with Sweden, would have quieter celebrations for the first decades of the 19th century.

4. “Ja, vi elsker” is not the official national hymn

Contrary to popular belief, the song that Norwegians sing during the celebrations, “Ja, vi elsker”, is actually not the national song of Norway. It was first performed in 1864 to mark the 50-year celebrations of Syttende Mai.

5. Norway is not the only country celebrating independence on May 17th

The tiny Pacific island state of Nauru, with 11,000 inhabitants, also celebrates its Constitution Day today.

6. Ice Cream Sales are Gigantic.

Syttende Mai is undoubtedly the best day for ice cream sellers in Norway, if the weather permits. It is reported that 7-Eleven can sell up to five to six times more ice cream than usual.

7. The weather on Syttende Mai fluctuates – a lot! (We can relate to this!)

Data from the Norwegian weather institute shows how much temperatures can vary across Norway on the national holiday. The warmest date on record was in Værnes in 2000, when the thermometer showed 26.8 degrees Celsius (around 80 degrees Fahrenheit). The coldest date was in Trømso in northern Norway, with minus 1 degrees Celsius (around 24 degrees Fahrenheit).

8. The peak-hour to watch the celebrations on TV is at 10.42 am

The average number of people viewing the celebrations on NRK (Norway’s largest news channel) is 387,000 throughout the day, at 10.42 am there’s more than 530,000 people watching.

9. A total sausage party.

Norwegians eat millions of sausages to celebrate their special day. While grilled sausage is preferred by most, the eastern part of the country is very fond of Wienerpølser, or Wiener sausages. During Syttende Mai sausage sales jump almost 120%.

10. Other notable historical events on May 17th:

  • 1792: The New York Stock Exchange was founded
  • 1846: Adolphe Sax got a patent for a new instrument called the saxophone
  • 1993: Rebecca Stephens became the first woman to scale Mt. Everest

You can celebrate Syttende Mai in the Twin Cities with Norway House at Mindekerken. Find out all about it here.


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