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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

17th of May, Bergen style

UPDATED: Millions of dressed-up Norwegians were out celebrating their constitution, freedom and democracy, or just having a good time on their 17th of May holiday on Wednesday. In Bergen, they braved one of their coldest Constitution Days ever, but didn’t seem to mind.

Bergen’s early morning parade, known as Morgenprosesjon, once again attracted hundreds of participants even though they all had to be in place long before most people would want to get up in the morning, especially on a national holiday. Few start celebrating as early as in Bergen: Some marching bands were already out at 5:30am and this parade started at 7am, after a canon salute and before flags are ceremoniously raised at 8am.

This parade (or “procession,” as the people of Bergen prefer to call it) began on one side of the historic city’s main harbour and crossed the city center to end at Bergen’s Festplassen, the large public square that’s at the heart of festivities. The procession was accompanied by the Krohnengen Brass Band and the Lungegaardens Musikkorps …

… along with an antique tram from the earliest days of public transportation. It experienced a slight technical problem, holding up the parade at one point, but it was quickly corrected.

Bergen is also known for being formal, and that was evident in this group’s top hats and extremely long sløyfer, the red, white and blue ribbons Norwegians wear on the 17th of May. They didn’t seem to mind the rain falling on them either, or the single-digit temperatures. Western- and Northern Norway were all hit by a spring chill and rain, while Southern Norway and especially Oslo could enjoy sunshine and much more warmth.

The city’s 17th of May Committee and top officials including the mayor (third from right) led off the early parade, stopping along the way to place wreaths on monuments to important historical figures.

Mayor Linn Kristin Engø of the Labour Party also spoke under the statue of Christian Michelsen that towers over the center of Bergen. Michelsen, who was a shipowner from Bergen, served as Norway’s first prime minister after Norway won its independence from a troubled union with Sweden in 1905. Engø hailed his values and contribution to the then-young nation’s common cause: “Thank you for all you have done for us. Now it’s our turn to carry on your legacy.”

Norway’s cherished flag flew briskly in front of Christian Michelsen’s statue, framed by the blossoming but weather-worn birch trees on the hills that surround Bergen.

Even longer parades followed later in the morning, featuring a tradition now unique to Bergen: Buekorps. They’re similar to a drum and bugle corps made up mostly of young boys out marching without the bugles but carrying crossbows (buer) or mock rifles. The tradition goes back to the mid-1800s, rooted in a need at the time for pre-military training for young men but also in the benefits of exercise, social contact and support from adult officers. Today the buekorps are considered an important part of Bergen’s cultural history. They were initially organized and existed in several Norwegian cities but have only survived in full vigor in Bergen, where they’re an alternative to school marching bands or scouting and also now offer social and sporting events and tours.

The main parade of the day, called Hovedprosesjon, was also more irreverent and not limited to just bands and marching school children like in Oslo and many other Norwegian cities. Bergen’s 17th of May “processions” also featured sporting teams, business groups, uniformed young naval officers, vintage cars, children’s theater groups, political satire and this group of cyclists.

And then come the parading russ, graduating high school seniors celebrating the end of 13 years of education before heading off for college, jobs, the military or a year off. They’ve already been partying for weeks, signs of which can be seen on their traditional red or blue overalls, but they have to sober up now for exams that begin paradoxically after the russ season, not before.

Norwegian folk costumes known as the bunad were also on parade as usual, many of them traditional like those worn by this group of enthusiastic young women. Other new variations of ceremonial dress, known as festdrakt, are also becoming more common and don’t reflect geographic regions of Norway. They’re also much less expensive than a bunad that now can cost as much as NOK 80,000 (USD 8,000) or even more.

When the parades ended, and even before, it was party time. 17th of May celebrations often begin with champagne breakfasts in private homes before guests head out for the parades, if they head out at all.

By early afternoon it was clear that more partying was underway, with these four young men opting to hang out of a window and toast passersby. In some cases, though, the partying got out of hand, with police reporting several street brawls in the downtown area by late afternoon. Lines were long to get into popular bars and entertainment spots.

Others spent the rest of the afternoon by or even in the popular harbour area known as Vågen. It was the destination for a boat parade that started earlier in the day from Hilleren, southwest of downtown Bergen. Other attractions included rowing races on Vågen. The morning rain let up and the sun even made some appearances as the festive day headed into evening. Events were scheduled to continue until 11pm, ending with a fireworks display. Many participants could at least look forward to sleep in on Thursday, which is also a public holiday and the start of a long Ascension Day weekend.

ALL PHOTOS: NewsinEnglish/Morten Møst

TEXT: NewsinEnglish/Nina Berglund

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