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Ja, vi elsker dette landet! (Yes, we love this country!)

16 May 2011

Tuesday, the 17th of May is Norway’s National Day. It is a day when Norwegians celebrate the creation of their own, independent constitution while under Swedish rule in 1814. Today they are no longer under Swedish rule (except, of course, when it comes to Ikea … and Saab and Volvo … and the ICA, Rimi and Spar grocery stores; and the Nordea and Handelsbanken banks; and the KappAhl, Lindex, H & M, Filippa K, and Tiger of Sweden clothing stores; Ericsson mobile phones; Åhleans home stores; Läkerol and Malaco candy … not to mention the ongoing tyranny of ABBA. Even the preschoolers are forced to dance to endless loops of “Gimme Gimme Gimme” and “Waterloo” on Disco Friday, an early initiation into the cultural habits of their Swedish neighbors).

As for ditching the Swedes in 1905, a Norwegian friend of mine said it went down like this: “We said: ‘We’re gonna do it our way now, and you can go and do it your way.’ And we wished them luck.” (Which, incidentally, she also proposed as a good solution for the cultural and ideological divide between the Northern and Southern American states. In this scenario, however, we had to agree that a gun would do the talking.) So the Swedes and Norwegians are like exes that still talk and hang out every once in a while. They still disagree on how to make meatballs, but they vote for each other in the Eurovision song contest.

Kransekake

The traditional kransekake is 18 rings of indescribable chewy goodness made from marzipan and egg whites.

Syttende mai (as the 17th of May is called in Norwegian) is a day to celebrate all things Norwegian, including the three main national dishes: hot dogs, ice cream and waffles. Later, at the evening school party, we will finish off this meal with dessert: blotekake (a sponge cake topped with whipped cream and berries that match the colors of the Norwegian flag) and, the very best of all: kransekake, topped with Norwegian flags and party crackers. People often ask me if I would miss anything about Norway if I moved back to America. I would miss kransekake.

On syttende mai we will go to town and stand in the pouring rain to watch the parade, listen to the incessant drumming of the buekorps, continuously lose our son as he runs off into the crowd to collect Russ cards,

Russ cards

Russ cards are handed out by graduating seniors in the last weeks of school.

and walk in mazes so that our children don’t spot the tivoli, all the while surrounded by Norwegians dressed in bunads waving flags and also eating hot dogs, ice cream and waffles.

A family wearing bunad. And no, these are not my neighbors. (Photo by Leifern; courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Russ also have their own parade on the 17th of May. I recommended turning down your volume when you watch this. Alternatively, turn it up and experience it just as we do.

In our first year in Norway, syttende mai fell on a Monday and gave us a three-day holiday. We decided to take our first long, overnight hike, hoping to return in time for the parade on Monday. It was a good initiation into Norwegian hiking in which we learned several valuable lessons: a three-hour hike for a Norwegian will take an American eight hours, don’t waste too much time looking for a trail or a sign because there aren’t any, and snowstorms do still occur in the mountains in May (which is how we ended up spending two nights in the cabin instead of one).

On our way long way back to civilization we met an older, and much more agile climber. He was the only other hiker we passed in those long eight hours. He saw us struggling on the last leg of the hike, which circled a lake, and offered to ferry us across in a rowboat he seemed to have divined. Unlike us, he wasn’t bogged down with fancy gear; he carried only a small cloth rucksack. His longish hair and rugged skin suggested he just might live in those mountains. I asked him if he planned on going into town to watch the parade. He smiled, his eyes twinkling like the eyes of Santa Claus, and said, “Jeg er fri.” I am free.

That sums it up for me. Freedom in Norway is not about a set of rules in place aimed to promote and promise freedom, but rather a sense that freedom is all around us, something to simply enjoy. Freedom is being free. And that is something to celebrate.

Flag    God syttende mai, norge!

    Happy 17th of May, Norway!

N. B. “Ja, vi elsker detter landet!” is Norway’s national anthem. A rendition of it can be heard here.)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 May 2011 20:52

    Oh, that first paragraph really made me giggle. . .
    Actually, the whole thing did. It’s our first syttende mai tomorrow, with our 3 year old in the barnehage tog (she’s sooooo excited), and I imagine it will be much like you described: standing in the pouring rain listening to the korps.

  2. jenaconti permalink
    17 May 2011 18:32

    I hope you had a great first 17th May experience! (and maybe without rain?) The day really is all about the children, so I hope your daughter enjoyed it.

  3. 20 May 2011 20:47

    My husband is still snickering over the “tyrrany of ABBA” quote. I’ve tried to post an ABBA post, but really want a video along with it, and can’t get it to load. Thus. . . it will wait until I switch to wordpress.

  4. 23 May 2011 11:04

    Had a good laugh – excellent post! A wonderful day indeed – the 17th May – but all the ‘tradition’ gets a little overwhelming for me. I would also much prefer to spend it in the mountains…..

  5. jenaconti permalink
    23 May 2011 14:23

    Return to Norway: Yes, my husband and I were comparing 17th May to our national 4th of July. In the U.S. we do NOTHING on the 4th of July, outside of a swim in the lake or a BBQ. It is a day to sleep in and relax. In Norway everyone gets up really early, spends hours getting dressed up, has a special breakfast, spends all day parading and then working at the school party- that’s not a holiday to us! 🙂

    Thanks for your comment!

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