Norway’s Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May basked under brilliant sunshine and perfect temperatures around most of the country on Sunday. The mood was especially festive after Norway won the Eurovision Song Contest the night before, and the winning song could still be heard on the streets along with the national anthem.
The day couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in Oslo: Not a cloud in the sky, a crisp breeze to keep flags waving and temperatures cool enough that patriotic Norwegians could comfortably wear their heavy woolen national costumes known as the bunad . Meteorologists had predicted “perfect bunad weather” and their forecasts proved correct.
Celebrations started early as usual, even though tens of thousands had been up well past midnight to see young Norwegian musician Alexander Rybak win an astounding victory in the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Graduating high school students called russ, who clearly had been partying all night, were spotted in haggard groups wandering around downtown but still belting out the winning song’s lyrics.
The mood was more serious at the national cemetery honoring Norway’s fallen heroes, Vår Frelsers Gravlund in Oslo. Its wreath-laying ceremonies on the graves of such national icons as poet and statesman Henrik Wergeland, playwright Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who wrote the country’s national anthem, gathered large crowds despite the early starting time of 8am.The honor of speaking at Wergeland’s grave went this year to Øyvind Lindberg Russwurm of Munkerud School, which was chosen to march first in the annual parade that would follow the wreath-layings. Russwurm used Wergeland’s own words to remind the audience “just how good and beautiful” Norway is in the hearts of its citizens.
Red, white and blue floral wreaths were also placed on various monuments around town as well as on the graves of war heroes, poet and songwriter Alf Prøysen and the man who tried to remove Danish influence from the Norwegian language by creating “nynorsk,” Ivar Aasen.
Most in attendance then made their way further downtown for the annual parade, which marks the high point of 17th of May (“Syttende mai”) celebrations in Oslo and every city, town and village in Norway. The lengthy parade features almost exclusively children from all local schools and no military presence.
In Oslo, the parade was led off by Mayor Fabian Stang and a salute to the Parliament, with its president Thorbjørn Jagland in place on the balcony of the monumental building known as Stortinget. Members of the royal family took their traditional places on the balcony of the Royal Palace at the other end of the parade route on the main boulevard Karl Johans Gate and waved for more than three hours to the students from the capital’s 109 schools.Canons were fired from the Akershus Fortress and Castle as the parade ended, almost an official signal that then the eating and drinking could begin. The 17th of May is one of the restaurant industry’s most important and profitable days in Norway, and the good weather led to packed outdoor cafés.
The royal family moved from the palace balcony to an annual family luncheon of their own, but the day was far from over for King Harald and Queen Sonja, who make a traditional visit to an Oslo neighborhood in the afternoon of Constitution Day. This year they were heading for the trendy Gründerløkka district and a multi-ethnic outdoor “peoples’ party” that has become a tradition itself in recent years.