17th of May historical highlights

Finn Roed
West Bloomfield, Mich.

Though under Swedish hegemony, the Norwegian Constitution was written and agreed upon by the Riksforsamling (the congregation of diverse segments of Norwegian society authorized to write the Constitution) on May 16.

On May 17, the Riksforsamling chose Prince Christian Frederik to be King of Norway.

On May 18, the Constitution was signed.

Several times since, the Constitution has been changed.

In the years that followed, there were many celebrations honoring the Constitution, which were sometimes rowdy and worrisome for the Swedish King, Carl Johan. One example is “Torveslaget” in 1829.

In 1829, Henrik Wergeland held the first official oration at the monument of the parliamentary representative, Christian Krogh, in Christiania (later Oslo) to honor the constitution. It was only after King Karl Johan’s death in 1844 that the celebrations of the Constitution became more common.

During the 1850s, the foremost 17th of May speaker was Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

In 1859, he created a “fatherland song,” “Der ligger et land mot den evige snø”(There lies a country by the eternal snow). At the same time he created the famous national anthem “Ja vi elsker” (Yes, we love this country).

In 1870, Bjørnson conceived the brilliant idea of a flag parade for Norwegian children, which has become the heart of the 17th of May celebrations.

Is there any other country that celebrates its children to the extent that Norway does?

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.