Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Happy Constitution Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2009

I woke up this morning and realized two things. Firstly, it is the Norwegian Constitution Day, which probably is the most important day of the year for all Norwegians. If anyone has been visiting Norway – and Oslo in particular – on this day they will know what I mean. Secondly, Norway won the Eurovision Song Contest held in Moscow last night, and not only did we win but we completely outclassed the competition.

The Royal Castle in Oslo

The Royal Castle in Oslo

To give you some brief background, the year 1814 was a turning point in Norwegian history, where the Danish-Norwegian union was dissolved after almost 400 years. A Norwegian Constitution was developed by the national assembly at Eidsvoll and signed on May 17 1814, and the Danish prince Christian Frederik was selected to be the new King of Norway. In 1859, almost 50 years later, the famous Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and his cousin, the composer Rikard Nordraak, wrote the song that was going to become the Norwegian national anthem. The song opens with the line “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” which in English translates to “Yes, we love this country”, and I suppose it says everything about the Norwegian nationalism.

The way the Norwegians celebrate the National Day today can be traced back to another famous writer, Henrik Wergeland, who started the tradition with the children’s parade. In every Norwegian city, town and village all the school children will line up for a parade dressed up their finest clothes and carrying Norwegian flags. In the capital Oslo, the main street (Karl Johan Street) is completely blocked off by the police, and the parade is walking up the street and passing the Royal Castle where the king and the queen will waive and greet the children while the proud parents are watching the from the side. In other cities and towns the children will parade to a local monument or town hall, and the mayor will make a speech to the locals. In the afternoon schools have organized social and sports activities for kids and their parents, and most people are rather exhausted when the day is coming to an end.

Fjord on the Norwegian West Coast

Fjord on the Norwegian West Coast

May 17 is mainly a day for the children, but in the afternoon there is another parade in the cities that many are looking forward to, i.e. the student in their final year of high school, or so-called “russ”. These teenagers form a crazy parade of busses and other vehicles, equipped with huge stereos and filled with alcohol, and they are having the party of their lives. They typically dress up in their red or blue jumpsuits representing the education direction of their school, but many of them also dress up in all kinds of funny outfits to entertain the audience. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Mardi Gras parade in Sydney in February, although maybe not as vulgar.

Every year on May 1, the “russ” are starting their celebration and partying more or less constantly until May 17. Unfortunately, it also involves some negative incidents where the teenagers are fighting and bothering other people with loud music and unpleasant behavior, and the police are kept quite busy during the first two weeks of May. In addition, some students are forgetting all about their exams, and they need to retake the exams later because they failed. As we say in Norwegian, “when the beer goes in, the sense goes out”.

Frankly, when I lived in Norway I always tried to stay away from the city center on May 17. It was too much of a hassle to navigate through the chaos of crying children and their stressed parents, and I must admit that I really hate crowds. When I was at my final year in high school I didn’t even celebrate being a “russ” like most of my friends, for two main reasons. First of all, I didn’t drink alcohol (I still don’t), and hanging out with a bunch of drunken teenagers when you are sober is no fun at all. Secondly, I didn’t see a reason to celebrate since I knew that the coming years at University were going to be much harder than high school. Well, I guess I am too much of a pragmatic.

Southern coastal town, Arendal

Southern coastal town, Arendal

I suppose the Norwegians have more than one reason to celebrate today. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the bigger events in Europe every spring, and it has become of these things everyone will bitch about but still will watch, almost like a soap opera. I think I stopped watching it when I was a teenager, and I have had no idea about the artists and songs unless Norway was in the final and the newspapers were writing about it. Now that I live in Asia I am even more dissociated from it, and in fact, this morning one of my friends from Sydney made me aware of the Norwegian victory in the contest, which is a bit funny. I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.

So, how am I going to celebrate the National Day? I don’t have any plans actually, but I suppose I will be putting on some nice clothes, walk down to Clarke Quay, find a nice restaurant and have good meal in 30 degrees Celsius while watching the Singaporean sunset over the river. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

Once again, congratulations Norway! I miss your furrowed, weather-beaten mountain landscape very much and I hope to see you again soon. 🙂


3 Responses to “Happy Constitution Day, Norway!”

  1. Nina said

    Gratulerer med dagen Monica 🙂

  2. Tuan said

    Sounds like everything is fine with you and that life is treating you well.
    We in Norway hope to see you again soon as well..:)

    Big Hugs,


    • Monica Johansen said

      Joda, det går rimelig bra her, men savner dere alle sammen. Håper å ta en tur hjem snart, for det nærmer seg 3 år siden sist jeg var i Norge. 🙂

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