Norwegians weren’t only celebrating their much loved 17th of May by marching in parades on land. At precisely 8am, the national anthem played over loudspeakers on the cruise ferry Color Fantasy and officers raised the flag, just like hundreds of thousands of school children were doing all over the country.
Color Line’s captain emerged from the bridge and lined up with his crew in the flag-raising tribute observed by passengers on the vessel’s top deck. It all took place as the vessel, returning from a routine trip to Kiel in Germany, sailed up the Oslo Fjord to a capital decked out for the annual national celebration.
The Color Fantasy wasn’t the only ship also decorated with signal flags from stem to stern. It seemed like every ship in the inner harbour, even the commuter ferries running back and forth to Nesodden, were decorated as was the royal yacht Norge, now at her summer anchorage off the Bygdøy Peninsula.
Skies were grey, and a lack of wind left flags hanging rather limply from flag poles all over the city, but that didn’t dampen spirits. On the dock, tour guides stood waiting in their national costumes (bunad) to whisk mostly German tourists off on sightseeing trips just as the annual parade was getting underway downtown.
Meanwhile, at schools like Svendstuen in Oslo, children assembled early in the school yard to have their own flag-raising ceremonies. Those in the highest grades have the honor of raising the flag, before they all head into town to march in the parade that features children from schools all over the city.
Norway’s Constitution Day on the 17th of May differs markedly from national celebrations in other countries. With the exception of the Royal Guards, the parade is void of military presence and instead the emphasis is on marching bands and children, all waving the flag in a massive outpouring of color and patriotism.
They march from downtown, up the boulevard known as Karl Johans Gate to the Royal Palace, where the king and queen, crown prince and crown princess patiently wave to the masses for hours on end.
The big parade has traditionally been followed by a parade of the graduating teenagers known as russ, but this year the so-called russetoget was cancelled. After 105 years, the local Oslo russ decided that participation in the traditional russ parade was too low, and police had banned some of their noisy vehicles, so the partying students were invited to gather in the square at Tullinløkka instead.
“It’s a bit sad, but when tradition doesn’t function, it’s time to try something new,” said Oslo russ president Erik Dibba.
Other traditions stood firm. Some events started as early as 7am and monuments all over the country were decorated with wreaths. In Oslo, the president of the parliament, Dag Terje Andersen, laid a wreath next to the statue of King Haakon VII, for example, while hundreds gathered in the national cemetery Vår Frelsers for wreath-laying ceremonies at the graves of such national heroes as Henrik Wergeland, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Henrik Ibsen and fallen resistance fighters from World War II.