May 17th,  Norway´s National Day.

While most countries chose to celebrate their independence day, Norway celebrates the day their constitution was signed. It was signed on May 17, 1814 in Eidsvoll. Presumably it would be difficult to select one independence day because Norway has been in unions with both Sweden and Denmark, in addition to being occupied by Germany during war.

May 17th is a festive day in Norway and great fun for tourists. If you aspire to travel to Norway, but shy away from the snow and ice of winter, May 17th would be the time to come!  Norwegians are inclusive to any foreigner who happens to be visiting on this day. You can expect to have a flag thrust into your hand and be welcomed to join in all activities. Towns all over the country have cleared away the remnants of winter, planted fresh flowers, and look their absolute best. In addition, most  people dress up in national costumes called bunads.  The design of the bunads represent areas of Norway. So, if you are abreast of the many different styles, you can tell where  in Norway a person is from by their bunad´s design.

Bunads can be very expensive. They are mostly handmade with time intensive and intricate embroidery, not to mention the silver buttons, pins, hooks, and broaches. Therefore, it is common for the costumes to be passed down from generation to generation. So, you may not actually be from where your bunad originated.

The day begins early and is very long. All over Norway, there are children’s parades with an abundance of flags. Each elementary school district arranges its own parade with marching bands between the schools represented. Children walk with their class behind a banner announcing their school and grade. They sing and chant national songs as well as shout cheers of school spirit. The parade takes the children along a route through the community.

The longest parade is in Oslo. This one is broadcast on TV each year, with commentary on costumes, banners etc., together with local reports from celebrations around the country. The massive Oslo parade involves over 100 schools, with over 100,000 participants, including marching bands along with the children proudly showing off their bunads. The parade route passes the Royal Palace where the royal family waves to the passers by from the main balcony.

The children as well as parade onlookers make a lot of noise shouting “Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!”,  They sing, blow whistles, shake rattles, and use other noise makers. All parades begin and end with speeches. And finally the singing of the national anthem.  After the parades, there are games for the children, as well as ice cream, sodas, coffee, sweets and hotdogs at the local schools. The entire day focuses upon the children and is very cute and sweet.

And rumor has it, children may eat as much ice cream they want to on May 17! Last year Eliane, my seven year old daughter, had four ice cream cones, but this year she said she plans to eat one hundred!

Interesting note, Norway consumes, per capita, more ice cream than any other country in the world!

Now the fun part!

The high school graduating seniors are known as russ.  They wear overalls in colors representing their field of study. Red, blue, and black are the most popular (generalized college prep, economics and business,and vocational trades).

Being a russ is a big Norwegian tradition.

A right of passage, so to speak, from child to adult. And from what I can tell, it is a time high school seniors can party, and be crazy for several weeks between Easter and May 17, while adults look the other way. Most are 18, the legal drinking age in Norway.  And crazy is an understatement. They have hats, and upon these hats they collect badges for performing daring tasks which get scarier from year to year.

I personally have seen naked russ walking across a very long bridge wearing only their hats. I am sure it is great fun and I imagine they still discuss the memories when in retirement homes later in life. I do not think I would do some of the things I have seen these kids do if I could be recognized, and they have their name painted largely down the leg of their overalls just in case someone wants to know who´s mother should be called!

Russ have pretend business cards with silly pictures and sayings on them, that they pass out to small children that avidly collect and swap them. It is quite the scene to see the little ones swarm around them like bees on honey. And I am always impressed with the amount of patience the teenagers have. It is as though they remember when they were asking, `May I have a Russ Card?´

On May 17 the russ have their own parades. They parade through the street with their russmobiles, russbikes, on skis (despite the absence of snow), or whatever they can get their hands on for transportation. They carry silly signs and have a ton of fun. They may parody various political figures and events, all in good fun. Their transportation is typically a result of several students dividing the cost, so it is often a van that can hold all the owners.  Parents and  local businesses chip in as sponsors and the rides are always covered with advertising.

May 17th ends their russ adventure, so this is a very big day for them. Then, after all the celebrating, they begin final exams. Seems odd to celebrate before passing exams, but hey, this is Norway!

After the Russ Parade, most Norwegians, young and old, gather with friends and family for individual traditions of champagne, shrimp sandwiches, cook-outs, buffets, and other intimate and personal ways of commemorating the day.

Happy 17th of May yáll!

Gratulerer med dagen Norge!