It’s Barnas dag once again—hipp, hipp, hurra!

A national day like no other

 

barnas dag

Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB
Once again, it will soon be the 17th of May—Norwegian Constitution Day—and children throughout Norway and around the world will take to the street to celebrate their special day.

Lori Ann Reinhall
Editor-in-chief
The Norwegian American

While many countries celebrate their national day with military parades, Norway’s national day revolves around children and community. In fact, the 17th of May is commonly known as Barnas dag—Children’s Day.

For Norwegian children, it’s a day of colorful traditional costumes or bunads, flags, parades, school bands, games, hot dogs, waffles, soda, and ice cream—a day for letting loose and having fun.

And there is certainly a lot to celebrate on the 17th of May: it’s the day that Norway’s constitution was signed in Eidsvoll in 1814, it is the end of the crazy partying for russ that goes on for students graduating from the Norwegian equivalent of high school, and spring  is coming into full bloom, with flowers starting to pop up everywhere.

Barnetog

The tradition of the barnetog, the children’s parades going through the streets, goes back to the early 19th century, when the great Norwegian patriot Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) ) organized a children’s parade at Eidsvoll in 1820, six years after the Norwegian constitution was signed there. During his lifetime, Wergeland was known as the “17. mai-kongen,” the “17th of May King.”

Then in 1864, Norway’s beloved poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) organized the first children’s parade in Christiania (today Oslo) in 1820 with school administrator Peter Qvam.

But the first barnetog were for boys only. It was only in 1899 that girls were allowed to join in for the first time.

Today, Barnas dag is a day for all children, and there is a strong emphasis on inclusivity, as newcomers to Norway are welcomed to join the celebration. Bunads still abound, and it is not uncommon to see Sámi children in their traditional attire, the gákti. Everyone wears a sløyfe ribbon, in red, white, and blue to show that they are joining it the spirit of Syttende Mai and unifying values of democracy and freedom.

The children’s parade in Oslo is the largest in the world  with all of the city’s schools participating, as the children march through the streets to pass by the royal palace, where the royal family waves to them from the balcony. A crowd of about  100,000  will line the streets to cheer them, waving their flags and singing the national anthem “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”—”Yes, we love this country” (the text was written by Bjørnson in 1859).

Enthusiastic shouts of “Hipp, hipp. hurra!” are heard through the streets as the children march by and bystanders wave to the them or even join in on the parade.

Barnetog take place in every Norwegian town and city, and here in North America, we celebrate, too.  The largest 17th of May parade outside of Norway is in my hometown, Seattle, in the historic Ballard neighborhood, which was settled by Norwegian immigrants. But while the parades in Norway take place in the morning, on this side of the Atlantic, the parades are often later  in the day. They often take  on an “American” flavor with cars and floats as adults join  in, but the spirit is much the same: that of freedom and fun.

Equality and inclusivity

I have always said that you don’t need to take a DNA test to celebrate Norwegian Constitution Day. On the 17th of May, we are all Norwegians, no matter what our ethnic backgrounds or nationalities are. Whether in  Seattle, Norway, or around the world, it’s a day for reaching out to others to share not only the fun but our values.

By teaching all our children about the signing of the Norwegian Constitution and the history of the holiday, we reinforce important principles that guide us and hold our societies together. There is so much to be thankful for on the 17th of May.

Red, white, and blue

I once heard the remark that when it comes to finding decorations for Syttende Mai, it’s a convenient coincidence that both the U.S. flag and the Norwegian flag are red, white, and blue. Yes, it is convenient, but I am quick to explain that this is actually not a coincidence.

As the Norwegian Constitution was inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 and subsequent U.S. and French constitutions, so was the Norwegian flag inspired by the colors of the flags of the United States and France.

The three colors of the French flag have been taken to represent the three elements of the revolutionary motto, liberté (freedom: blue), égalité (equality: white), fraternité (brotherhood: red)—and these are values all three nations share.

Of course, there are some important differences in the Norwegian constitution. Unlike the United States and France, Norway chose to keep its king in a constitutional monarchy. Today, the royal family symbolizes the unity of the Norwegian nation and its people,

Yes, the 17th of May, Barnas dag, is a very fun day, but, above all, it’s a very important day when we share and honor our history, heritage, and hope for future generations.

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.