A brief history and how to celebrate from anywhere –
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 their 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. See the 2021 Mindekirken and Norway House #17MaiMN schedule of events here!
Want to celebrate on your own?
Whether you have been celebrating for years or are new to Syttende Mai, we put together a brief guide of ways to celebrate. Choose one or choose them all:
- Buffet big: today is the day to have waffles, eggs, salmon, toast, jam, in other words – IT ALL – plus a little something sparkling to drink
- Don your best national dress: bring out your bunad if you have one, or sport red, blue, and white in honor of the Norwegian flag
- Hot dogs & ice cream!! The most hot dogs and ice cream of the year are consumed on this day in Norway, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
- Wave your flag: flags are the main decoration for Constitution Day, in Norway hundreds of them wave on the parade route
- Sing a song: “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” is the national anthem of Norway but was only officially adopted as such in 2019
- Send a greeting: “Gratulerer med dagen” (congratulations on the day) is what Norwegians say to each other on this holiday, or a simple “hurra!”
- Eat cake: cake is allowed at any point during the day – bløtkake, kransekake, the options are endless
Click Here to see Syttende Mai items for your celebration! Including a new celebration box with a flag garland, toothpick flags, and more!