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Celebrating Constitution Day in Norway

As we are based in Stavanger, Norway, here at timeanddate.com, we are counting down to celebrate our Constitution Day on May 17. The date is obvious even for non-Norwegians.

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On Constitution Day, the Norwegian flag is raised on all flag poles nationwide, also in the fjords.


It all starts with a bang.

Or, actually, 21 bangs. Constitution Day in Norway kicks off at 07:00 (7 am) in the morning with a gun salute. To salute means “to greet,” and this tradition pays tribute to the day. One of the words that first come to mind when I think of Norway’s Constitution Day is “early.” Everything starts early to make the most of the day: the salute, the (champagne) breakfast, and the music.

Day of Joy and Celebration

The Norwegian flag is raised on all flag poles nationwide; cars are decorated with flags, and sometimes children even decorate their bikes with flags and branches of birch. Formal wear is expected, and many wear our national costume, known as a “bunad.” If you’re outdoors in Norway on May 17—or simply “syttende mai” in Norwegian—you’ll be unable to miss that this is a day of joy and celebration.

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Norwegian flags are seen everywhere, like here in Bergen.


Located in Norway, we at timeanddate.com join in the celebrations, and everyone in Norway gets a day off. For us Norwegians in the company, May 17 holds a special place in our hearts—but what do our international colleagues think of our National Day?

Handmade National Costumes

May 17 is an incredibly joyous occasion—you’ll hardly find a grumpy face when you step out into the festivities (except maybe on a child denied a second ice cream). Everywhere you look, people are beaming, exchanging greetings with strangers, indulging in hot dogs and ice cream, and enthusiastically cheering on parade participants. The festive energy is infectious!

As a lover of textiles, May 17 is particularly fun for me because of the stunning bunads proudly on display.

Aparna, India, Research Team Lead
may 17, norway, bunad, national costume

Women dressed in bunads from different parts of Norway.


The national costume bunad is a big deal in Norway. It’s often the most expensive outfit that people own, and since there are many different variations, it tells the story of where in the country you originate from. These exquisite garments are often passed down through generations and handcrafted, each carrying a rich tapestry of history and geography.

Many Norwegians get this outfit for their confirmation, a ritual usually conducted at the age of 15, and they wear it for important and festive occasions like baptisms, weddings, and especially our Constitution Day.

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All dressed up in my bunad. The bunad is embroidered by my grandmother.


Early Mornings for the Marching Band

As a former marching band musician, I remember getting up bright and early to practice and prepare for the parade. Now, I get up early to get the family ready and to put on my bunad—it can take some time to get everything on.

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Marching band parading the main street in Oslo, Karl Johan.


An hour after the salute, which means 08:00 (8 am), Norwegians all over the country gather to remember people who have contributed to our nation, including war veterans, politicians, and other influential personalities. Flowers and wreaths are ceremoniously placed at memorial sites to honor the men and women who laid down their lives during the Second World War, and to remind people that freedom and peace cannot be taken for granted.

Norway was occupied by the Nazis for five years during WWII, and during the occupation, all celebrations were forbidden, and democracy was set aside. This repression during the war is precisely why there was such a strong gathering around the national day in the post-war period, with the children’s parade at the center of the observance.

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School children and marching bands parade the city center together.


The Children’s Day

May 17 is often called Children’s Day in Norway. And boy, do my kids love this day. They look forward to it for months, and it’s almost as appreciated as their birthday.

While other countries celebrate their independence with military parades, Norway does not follow this tradition. It stems from a suggestion from the poet and Nobel Prize winner in literature, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, in 1870. He suggested that Norway should parade its future, the children, on our National Day. To this day, school children and marching bands parade through the city center together, and the kids sing and wave their flags to the marching bands’ tunes.

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Happy children in Bergen celebrating Constitution Day.


As an American, the contrast between 4th of July and May 17 celebrations is stark. In Norway, the nation’s day is dedicated to children—there are no troops or police on parade, which speaks to how Norwegians want to see themselves. My two grown kids still love the day, dressing up in bunad and sailing out on the fjord with friends".
Dean, USA, journalist

Why Do We Celebrate May 17?

Norway’s Constitution was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly at Eidsvoll on May 16, 1814, and signed the following day, May 17, 1814.

Even though we established our Constitution in 1814, we didn’t get our independence until 1905, with the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905. Constitution Day celebrations began in 1836 when it was instituted as a national holiday.

Today, Constitution Day is a public holiday and day off for most people in Norway. In Norwegian, it’s often called “syttende mai,” or simply “May 17th.”

The people not parading stand along the route, cheering and waving to the kids. Several songs are played in honor of the day, including the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (Yes, we love this country)—the lyrics written by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, mentioned above.

In Norway’s capital, Oslo, the children’s parade walks past the Royal Palace, where the Norwegian royal family waves to the kids from the palace balcony. Schools nationwide have games and entertainment for the kids after the parades. This day’s menu includes soda, hot dogs, and ice cream, and it’s an unwritten rule that the kids can eat as much ice cream as they want.

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A school with flags parading in front of the castle in Norway’s capital, Oslo. The Royal family is on the balcony waving to the people.


After I became a mum, May 17 is all about the kids. We are parading, singing, and waving our flags. For me, it’s a day filled with gratitude and focus on what means the most.
Therese, Norway, HR

Celebrating Graduation

You may notice some tired-looking young adults in red or blue overalls among the people in national costumes and suits.

They are called “russ,” and this celebration is part of their high school graduation. The 18-year-olds have been celebrating all of May, sometimes longer, and it’s common to party the whole night between 16 and 17 May—something you can often tell by looking at them.

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Easy to spot in the parade: The russ with their characteristic outfits.


The russ are also known for playing pranks, which are added as trophies on the string of their graduation cap. Colleague Gustav remembers a prank they did after a long night of partying:

We spent the night at school in a tent. In the morning, we made fried eggs and bacon while people came to school, tempting everyone with the delicious smell of a good breakfast.
Gustav, Norway, Senior Backend Developer

Doesn’t Feel Like a Holiday

After a long day of celebrating, taking off the bunad in the evening is amazing. Since it’s made of warm and heavy wool, putting it back on the hanger is often a relief, especially if it’s been a hot day.

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Even though it's a holiday, May 17 is a lot of work, so it’s wonderful to relax at the end of the day.


Other Constitutional Days in May

Did you know Norway isn’t the only country celebrating its constitution in May? Japan and Poland celebrate their constitutions on May 3 with holidays and days off from work.

Germany observes May 23 as "Constitution Day," though the day is not widely celebrated.

Even though May 17 is a fun day, it’s also exhausting, especially for families with small children like I have. The whole family is worn out after walking around the whole day, some of us in high heels. The step tracker on my watch even applauds me for hitting a new record. All of us are stuffed on sausages and ice cream. This holiday doesn’t really feel like a holiday; it’s a lot of work!

So, after starting early, I’m also quitting early, rolling into bed with sore feet and many new memories from an eventful celebration.

Topics: Calendar, Holidays, May