Norwegian Constitution Day

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Constitution Day
Observed by: Norwegians
Also called: Syttende mai (May 17th)
Begins: May 17
OccasionCelebrating the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in Eidsvoll, May 17th 1814.
Symbols:Parades, flags

The Norwegian Constitution Day is the National Day of Norway and is an official national holiday each year. It is set to May 17 to commemorate the signing of the Constitution at Eidsvoll on that day in 1814. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as Syttende mai or Søttende mai (both meaning May Seventeenth).

All over Norway, children's parades with an abundance of flags form the central elements of the celebration. Each elementary school arranges its own parade, led by the school's own marching band, that takes the children through the community, often making stops at homes for senior citizens, war memorials, etc.. In addition to flags, people typically wear red, white and blue ribbons. Although a long-standing tradition, it has lately become more popular for men, women, and children to wear traditional outfits, called bunad.

The graduating class from the Norwegian equivalent of high school - known as russ - has its own celebration on May 17th, staying up all night and making the rounds through the community.

In Oslo, children from all the city's schools gather to parade past the Royal Palace, where they and the Royal Family exchange waves and greetings.

In the municipality of Asker, outside of Oslo, the children gather outside the residence of the Crown Prince at Skaugum Estate in the morning (giving the Crown Prince and his family time to attend the parade in Oslo later in the day). Bergen's parade has its own traditions, including comic troups, various local organizations, and the buekorps.

The poet Henrik Wergeland is credited with making Syttende mai a celebratory day for the children rather than a day of patriotic pride. Flags and music dominate the day, and there are no military parades. To commemorate his contribution, the russ in Oslo place an oversized hat on his statue near the Norwegian parliament; the Jewish community place a wreath on his grave in the morning as a tribute to his efforts on their behalf.

It is an inclusive holiday; in addition to the children's parades, there are street vendors with ice cream, hot dogs, and lately, kebabs. Young and old turn out in festive attire. The former Norwegian president of parliament Jo Benkow noted that the day has increasingly become a celebration of Norway's growing ethnic diversity.

Syttende mai is also celebrated in many Norwegian immigrant communities in North America with traditional foods, including lutefisk.

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