By SRO Kjell Michelsen
This week on May 17, Norway, my birth country, celebrates their independence day. On that day in 1814, the new Constitution of Norway was signed in the town of Eidsvold.
Back then Norway was in a union with Sweden. The Swedish King at that time, King Karl Johan, actually banned it, believing that a celebration of this day was in fact, kind of a protest and disregard, even revolt against the union. It was not until 1905 that Norway once again was a fully independent country with its own King and Queen, and once again May 17 could be celebrated freely.
I remember growing up in Northern Norway how we used to celebrate May 17. The schools were a big part of the celebrations and still are. In the bigger cities with several schools, each would march under their own banner, and each class also had their separate banner. Most schools would also have a marching band, so in a city like Oslo the capital, you will see a parade with thousands of kids, from around 120 schools. Last year there were 74 marching bands, all parading dressed up and waving Norwegian flags. These parades will be held rain or shine.
Another neat thing about the Norwegian Independence day celebrations is the fact that the day very much is focused around children. The first part of the parade is mostly kindergarten, elementary and middle school kids, guided by their teachers and other volunteer chaperons. Behind them is the “peoples parade,” where you will have mostly families and various groups and civic associations. Somewhere between you will have the soon to be graduates from universities and high schools.
The latter, the high school graduates, are something unique to Norway. As I mentioned in an earlier post, high schools in Norway last only three years. The planning for their month-long celebration starts already during their first year in school. Some say it has gone a little out of hand, and I have to agree. Students from some schools will purchase an older bus and have it totally customized with a sound and light system, reminiscent of a night club. It will be painted inside and out, and they rent drivers to drive them around to various parties and concerts.
Some years ago my wife, my late mother-in-law and I were able to experience May 17 celebration in the capital, Oslo. It was a beautiful day, and we were able to get a sweet spot right in front of the Royal Castle and got to see the Royal family out on the balcony waving and greeting the parade as it passed directly in front of them. After the parade, we went as the custom is to a restaurant where they served Norwegian whipped cream cake with coffee, full of people dressed in suits and many in their respective national costumes from both Norway and other countries.
Until next time, be safe, be happy and be a good steward of our very own Independence Day.