Millions of Norwegians were planning to dress up in their national costumes or best party clothes on Tuesday for the country’s annual Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May, but state meteorologists warned they may need raincoats and umbrellas as well. The weather forecast was decidedly mixed, while traditional programs were fixed.
The forecast was best for Telemark and the southern coastal areas of Norway known as Sørlandet on Tuesday. Meteorologists told newspaper Aftenposten that celebrants there could expect lots of sunshine and temperatures from 15-18C (60-66F).
The Oslo area was also expected to enjoy some spells of sunshine, but also cloudy skies and possible showers with temperatures around 15C. Elsewhere in southeastern Norway (Østlandet), showers were predicted in the middle of the day and early afternoon.
“North of Hamar, there will be a little more rain,” meteorologist Børje Johansson told Aftenposten. Rain was also predicted for many other areas around Norway. “It won’t exactly be the kind of weather we dream about,” agreed Mariann Aabrekk of Storm Weather Center.
The outlook in general was best for southern and eastern Norway, while western Norway (Vestlandet) was told to prepare for a wet and possibly stormy 17th of May, with temperatures relatively chilly at only around 10C (50F). Snow flurries or sleet was in the forecast in mountain areas.
The worst weather was predicted in eastern Finnmark in northern Norway, with sleet or heavy rain, brisk winds and temperatures of just over the freezing point.
The show would go on
Festivities, though, would proceed as normal all over the country despite the weather. The 17th of May, which celebrates the signing of Norway’s own constitution in 1814 even though the country was then part of a union with Sweden, is rich in tradition, with towns and cities featuring children’s parades and marching bands, the laying of wreaths at the graves of various Norwegian heroes and a distinct lack of military pomp of circumstance. The closest the capital comes to displaying any military fanfare is the traditional marching and performance by the King’s Guards in front of the Royal Palace, as the royal family watches from the palace balcony.
Otherwise the day is devoted to children and festive parties where participants basically celebrate being Norwegian. In a small country like Norway, patriotism runs high, and the 17th of May is the day when it’s shown off more than ever.
The celebrations begin early, with flag-raising and wreath-layings starting at 8am. In Oslo, one of the most important and popular ceremonies starts at the grave of national hero Henrik Wergeland in the national cemetery downtown known as Vår Frelsers (Our Saviours). This is where many Norwegian national icons are buried, and after Wergeland is honored, the crowd moves on to the grave of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, the Nobel Prize winner who wrote the lyrics for Norway’s national’s anthem. After 15 minutes of song and tribute there, the crowd moves further to the grave of playwright Henrik Ibsen before ending at the graves of the first two Norwegians executed during World War II, Viggo Hansteen and Rolf Wikstrøm.
Various other ceremonies take place at other graves around the national cemetery, while top government officials are simultaneously placing wreaths at monuments all over town. An hour of so later, the annual parade of school children through town (barnetoget) begins, passing by the Parliament and, just before it ends, the Royal Palace, where King Harald, Queen Sonja and various other members of the royal family patiently wave for hours until it’s all over around 1pm.
Then Norwegians move on for festive luncheons and dinners, or simply hot dogs and ice cream on the streets, meeting friends, waving flags and admiring each other’s attire. It’s a day when the national costumes known as the bunad are on parade as well, worn by men and women and representing various districts around the country and many handed down from generation to generation.