Norway’s National Day – May 17

I mentioned in my last post that May 17th was approaching. The day recently passed, and for Norway, this date is known by a variety of names: Norway’s National Day, syttende mai, Nasjonaldagen, and Grunnlovsdagen, to name a few. It is the anniversary of the day in 1814 when the Norwegian constitution was signed in Eidsvoll and declared Norway to be an independent nation after the Napoleonic wars. It’s also the day when crazy stuff happens, though all of it is pretty non-militaristic. Children’s parades are common and buildings are decorated all around with Norwegian flags. The longest such parade is in Oslo where some 100,000 travel to take part in it! These parades are often televised and huge numbers of Norwegians participate. I participated myself this year:

We started the day off eating breakfast around 8 with Odontologforeningen, the dental student organization at the University of Bergen. I found out that one of the ways to say “Happy birthday” in Norwegian (“Gratulerer med dagen”) is also the commonly uttered phrase on syttende mai! I saw those around me were having a bit of champagne at 9 in the morning…so I figured heck, why not – do as the Norwegians do! Most people around us were also wearing a bunad, or the traditional Norwegian wear. Bunads are very expensive even by Norwegian standards, but they’re definitely unique.

After singing Norway’s national anthem and having delicious (and healthy!) food, we walked several kilometers (and miles) to the city center where the main parade – which included people playing bagpipes – was already beginning. I heard cannons firing accompanied by lots of smoke in the city center. And, to my surprise, I soon found out the hard way that we would be taking personal part in the parade…by hanging out with the student organization and handing out (throwing, rather…) free toothpaste tubes to people while marching in front of tens of thousands of spectators, and possibly being shown on TV!

Toothpaste and bagpipes!

I’ve never seen adults and children alike so happy to receive toothpaste. Hurra for healthy teeth!

After that, I had dinner with some of my Norwegian siblings. The whole day was quite an event, especially given how many people and flags I saw and how much exercise I got! Apparently it’s traditional to have ice cream on syttende mai, and also to have sour cream porridge. I had a scoop or so of strawberry and vanilla ice cream, but I was questioning of the latter tradition…I didn’t have any sour cream porridge, however, because we didn’t have any at the table anyway.

I learned that being in front of a TV station camera as well as tens of thousands of people while walking a few miles really doesn’t bother me. Gratulerer med dagen! =)