The cities of Oslo and Stavanger have both felt compelled to cancel their large and traditional parades that celebrate Norway’s constitution and hard-won independence on the 17th of May. It’s a huge blow to national prestige, but deemed necessary during the Corona virus crisis.
“This has historic dimensions,” declared the somber leader of Oslo’s 17th of May organizing committee, Pia Farstad von Hall of the Conservative Party. “It has been a difficult decision, but at the same time a correct decision. Health concerns come first.”
Porsgrunn, an historic city with industrial roots southwest of Oslo, was the first to cancel its own annual and highly festive parade on the 17th of May. At issue is the need for social distancing, which is difficult on such joyous days when crowds gather for an intensely patriotic celebration of their country. The parades feature children from local schools, with Oslo’s thus the biggest of them all and lasting for as long as three hours.
Von Hall told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the Oslo organizing committee’s decision Tuesday evening was unanimous. Members all agreed that the infection control measures imposed by state and local governments, based on health officials’ advice, could not be followed when tens thousands of people gather in downtown Oslo.
Their counterparts in Stavanger on Norway’s West Coast reached the same conclusion. “We’re planning a fine celebration, but it will take place digitally,” said the leader of the 17th of May Committee in Stavanger, Ann Sesilie Tekfeldt. The city is working on a technical solution to stream various events throughout the day, including a special cultural performance from the Stavanger Concert House.
All neighbourhood events have been cancelled, also in Trondheim. In the northern city of Alta, local officials are considering sending portions of marching bands in small groups through the city from morning to late afternoon, to spread music and festivity around neighbourhoods where residents are expected to celebrate at home in small groups.
Other cities like Bergen, Bodø and Kristiansand are still pondering how to celebrate the 17th of May in the middle of the Corona crisis. Norwegians love putting on their national costumes known as the bunad, attending memorial events in the morning, watching the midday parades and then often partying through the rest of the afternoon and evening.
This year will be unlike any other, comparable, perhaps, only to the years during World War II when 17th of May ceremonies and celebrations were prohibited by Nazi German occupants.
“It’s taken a long time to come to grips with not having a children’s parade in Oslo,” von Hall told NRK. But again, public health came first.