Syttende Mai

Norway has recorded civilisations older than Jesus, god and all that other stuff.  However, as a nation, Norway is still a baby, only marginally older than New Zealand (although New Zealand’s independence is of some debate. It officially became a colony in 1841, but when it gained independence is vaguer, and is something that seems to have happened without the king really noticing.  But, I think we have independence now.   Maybe we could just declare 18th January 2012 as our independence day.  Good weather than).

But I digress.  Back to Norway.

Today marked the 198th  anniversary of Norway’s independence back in 1814 when the country severed its ties with Sweden more permanently.

The anniversary, May 17th, is a massive fest across the country.  Unlike Waitangi Day, the closest we have to a national day, and where traditional celebrations call for either shopping or hurling abuse at our politicians, Norway’s national day is anticipated with fierce pride.  It’s the only day you will see a true sense of nationalism at play.  The flags come out, everyone dresses in traditional attire and heads into town to celebrate and embrace their Norwegianism.

I asked my colleagues what we should expect and whether we were allowed to participate.  I was told we should start the day dressing in our best clothes, sit down to a champagne breakfast with smoked salmon, and then head into town to watch the processions.  This sounded like a fine day to spend a Thursday.  And, we even had a bottle of NZ sparkling wine on hand from our most recent venture into the Vinmonopolet.

So, flags in hand, dressed in our best evening attire, we wrapped ourselves in woolen coats and braved the rain.  17th May in Bergen needs rain.  It would not be the same experience without it.

As we headed out, we immediately felt a little out of place, seeing our fellow Norwegian Bergerners all dressed in their bunads.  It’s a curious style, similar to the German and Austrian trachts but much more demure.  You won’t see any exposed skin on a Norwegian.  The temperature may have something to do with that.

Nonetheless, we soaked in  the atmosphere (pun intended), and enjoyed parade.

The core of the celebration involves a lengthy procession marked by its absence of military.

It is a children’s procession, and all take part, led by the Buekorps (Bergen only) –  a boy’s youth marching organization consisting of privates carrying wooden crossbows and rifles, and drummers.  They practice and anticipate this day the entire year.  Practicing daily from 6am.  If you live in town, you will never need an alarm, the relentless chorus of the Norwegian drummer boys will eagerly awake you every morning.

And, today was their day.

We watched the labor of their practice finally come to fruition, as they proudly marched through the streets followed by scores of children.

The parade is concluded by the Russ, graduating Norwegian high schoolers, about to embark on the next chapter of their lives.  For them too this is an important ritualistic day. They begin their journey on the 1st of May, dressing in red or blue overalls, which they must not take off, and embarking on a continuous drink fest, and concluding with a 24hr binge marathon ending on the 17th, before making the march through town.

This video suddenly makes a whole lot  more sense.

We saw 1000s of them.

They had a slightly wearied look about them.  Probably a combination of teenagerism, lack of sleep, and the massive and sudden loss of brain cells over the past few weeks.

With no umbrella on hand (long story), we eventually found ourselves shivering as our impregnated NZ wool coats were no longer able to keep off the rain.  Calling it a day we headed home for some celebratory wine, and some warming dinner.

A lovely day.

But, tomorrow it will be back to business for another year.

All photos below.


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