Just what is this «Russ» thing anyway?

Overalls, hats, and buses: the cultural phenomenon of graduation in Norway

Photo: Martine Wahlstrom Wahlstrom and her friends as Russ.

Photo: Martine Wahlstrom
Wahlstrom and her friends as Russ.

Martine Wahlstrom
Pacific Lutheran University

Every year Norwegian students party through the month of May. The purpose of this graduation festival, or «Russefeiring,» is to celebrate the completion of 13 years of school. Students aged 18 in their senior high school year receive either blue, red, black, or green overalls in the mail. These symbolize the students’ path of education, recognizing various schools and programs.

The Russefeiring usually starts around April 20 and ends on May 17. The traditional event originates back to 1905 when the red «Russ» caps were used in graduation celebrations to symbolize the admittance into college or university. The caps often get knots tied into their tassels for a wide variety of rewards and recognition for students fulfilling certain accomplishments. This was first introduced in the 1940s and continues until current Russefeiring in Norway. The knots vary from spending a night in a tree, drinking a bottle of wine in 20 minutes, or going for a swim before May 1. The last of these, for example, would enable that student to tie a thermometer to his or her cap.

Photo: minopplevelse.blogspot.com   Objects like soda caps are knotted into the tassels of caps to signify completion of various challenges.

Photo: minopplevelse.blogspot.com
Objects like soda caps are knotted into the tassels of caps to signify completion of various challenges.

The teenagers also have their own individual cars, or buses for groups, that are personalized with their name, slogan, and picture. These can become very elaborate, with sound systems and custom songs enhancing the appeal of the most famous buses.

To visualize the traditional Russ, it could be compared to an American fraternity or sorority where teens are dressed up in a certain way, work on a certain concept, and attend social gatherings. One of the main differences (aside from not being connected to college or university) is that Russ parties often take place in and around these vans or large buses. The students socialize in each other’s buses and hopefully receive VIP passes into the largest and most famous of these.

In addition to being a celebration of education, students party throughout April to the end of May to celebrate being old enough to consume alcohol at the age of 18. Even though the Norwegian community tends to have prejudice against the more extreme aspects of Russ culture, there are also newspapers and parents who value the students’ efforts and planning. The Russ in certain buses have worked strategically together in order to fund their project. This may offer the students great teamwork habits and good communication skills that will help them as they become adults.

This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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