Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja will be welcoming fellow Scandinavian royals to Oslo this weekend, to join in celebrations marking their Silver Jubilee as the country’s reigning royal couple. Sunday January 17 marks 25 years years since King Harald inherited the throne on the death of his father, King Olav V, and that’s just the start of three years of major royal birthdays and anniversaries.
Norwegians have a tradition of mounting big celebrations of what they call “round” milestones, and there’s a royal string of them through 2018. Next year both the king and queen will turn 80, always a good reason for a party in most households, and the year after that they’ll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the ceremony in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral when King Harald formally succeeded the 87-year-old King Olav, who died of a heart attack on January 17, 1991 while watching the Gulf War break out on TV. The death of King Olav, a widower throughout his entire reign that began in 1957, unleashed deep mourning among Norwegians who spontaneously responded by streaming over the snow-covered grounds of the Royal Palace in Oslo and leaving thousands of candles, flowers, children’s drawings and other mementos to honour the much-loved monarch.
It was the first time there had been such a symbolic display of grief mixed with gratitude in Norway, and Olav’s memory will be honoured as part of the 25th anniversary of his son as king. The late king loved winter sports, had jumped off Holmenkollen as a young man and often went skiing. King Harald hasn’t been known as a keen skier himself but Queen Sonja is an expert and on Sunday, the palace grounds will be transformed into a winter playground of sorts with ski jumps for children, prepared ski trails and even some snowboarding, with events all afternoon.
Norway’s entire royal family will take part in the government-sponsored celebration on the palace grounds, with a royal salute scheduled for 1pm karound the entire country. Events will extend to outdoor musical entertainment and an ice-skating show downtown, torch-lighting at 3:15pm back at the palace and a royal procession on foot from the palace to the University Aula for a special performance for other invited royals and dignitaries that will be shown to the public on large screen outdoors.
The arrangers, which include government ministries and Norway’s major sports organizations, were relieved when temperatures dropped and it finally started snowing last week. Climate change has made it risky to organize outdoor winter sports events in recent years and snow had to be trucked in just before Christmas to set up a mini-ski jump for children when the party plans were announced. It melted not long afterwards but now the palace grounds are covered with both natural and artificial snow, after snow-making canons have been blasting all week to augment what fell last week.
The forecast called for sunny skies on Sunday but cold temperatutes through the weekend. Royal guests were due to start arriving from Thursday, with Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia making the trip to Oslo along with Queen Margrethe of Denmark. Private dinners were scheduled in the evenings, also at the crown prince’s royal estate at Skaugum, with official events getting underway Friday. Representatives from the government, the parliament and Sami parliament would be congratulating the royal couple at the palace along with county leaders, ambassadors, church leaders and other dignitaries.
Monarchy retains majority support
The role of Norway’s monarchy in a modern social welfare state based on democratic principles continues to be debated, but the country’s royal traditions continue to enjoy strong public support. There’s little political support for scrapping the monarchy in favour of a republic and president, although many politicians admit the monarchy presents a paradox in an otherwise egalitarian-minded society.
“We have a royal house that is very popular,” Carl-Erik Grimstad, a former palace official who went on to be a commentator and critic of the monarchy, told newspaper Dagsavisen recently. “But it is more vulnerable for swings in opinion than it was earlier.” He noted how debate has flared over issues like large budget overruns when the palace was renovated after King Olav’s death, controversy around the business and spiritual activities of Princess Martha Louise, the royal children’s choice of spouses and, most recently, the crown couple’s much debated summer holiday on an expensive climate-unfriendly yacht owned by someone they refused to identify. Their decision to put their own two children in private schools has also sparked criticism.
But polls shows around 70 percent of Norwegians supporting the monarchy and it’s likely to carry on, with more public celebrations in the years ahead. “The royals make a lot out of their jubilees,” wrote author and commentator Kjetil Wiedswang in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. Wiedswang, who just wrote a book on the royal couple with his journalist wife Liv Berit Tessem, noted that the royals tend to increasingly endear themselves to the public as they grow older, and become more popular as the years go by. King Olav struggled to win the public adoration held by his late father King Haakon VII but after his own 80th birthday, he had an astonishing 97 percent approval rating. Queen Elizabeth of England has experienced much the same, as did her mother.
That can create challenges for the next generation, with Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit bearing the brunt of the criticism that can erupt as they try to define their roles. In the meantime, King Harald has declared he has no intention of royally retiring or giving up his position, like his counterparts have done in Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. He intends to remain king for life, but already is passing on more duties to the next in line.