The 17th of May (Syttende Mai) is Norway’s Constitution Day, a wonderful spring holiday celebrated with red, white and blue ribbons and flags, national costumes and big smiles as Norwegians everywhere mark the historic signing of their Constitution (Grunnloven) in 1814. That year marked the beginning of Norway’s gaining independence from Sweden, fully realized in 1905.
The 17th of May evolved over the years in Norway as a day for people to rally for political change or to stand unified during the German occupation
(1940-45), when open celebration of the holiday was strictly forbidden. Today, thousands march in children’s and people’s parades all over the country and wherever Norwegians are found across the globe – expressing their cultural pride, joy in springtime and honoring those citizens who created Norway’s constitutional government, founding her independence. It is Norway’s biggest holiday and shops and restaurants are closed. Many main roads are even closed!
The Syttende Mai parades are not military but of Norway’s citizens, marching to the bright music of community and school bands. Decorations of leafy birch branches–in celebration of winter’s end–and Norway’s flag of red, white and blue make for a festive atmosphere.
Especially popular is the Children’s Procession (barnetog) that brings every child out in his best clothes or national costume–marching with his school’s band, classmates and teachers. Young and old enjoy hot dogs and ice cream. This tradition started early, as an initiative by author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson when Oslo was known as Christiania. Bjørnson is most well known for writing the Norwegian national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet,” which you will also probably hear at any Syttende Mai celebration.
In Oslo, marchers head down Karl Johans Gate (pictured right) as the royal family looks on from the Royal Palace balcony.
There are 17th of May celebrations all over North America. In Minnesota, where the largest population of Norwegian-Americans is found, the Syttende Mai Minnesota organization–in cooperation with the Sons of Norway–plans events every year at this time. Big annual celebrations also take place in the Seattle/Ballard areas of Washington. This year (2021) they’re moving virtual, so everyone is welcome in their celebrations! You can find out more here.
Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, holds an annual service to celebrate. The 2021 service will be virtual, and they offer virtual Norwegian language classes as well!
Click Here to see Syttende Mai items for your celebration…