Barneblad: 17 fun facts about 17. Mai!

A monthly feature to share with kids and grandkids

17th of May

Image: Morten Johnsen / Wikimedia
The royal family waves from the balcony of the palace.

Brought to you by Lori Ann Reinhall

17th of May

Image: krivis / Pixabay
Syttende Mai is “the children’s day,” a day of joy and celebration for Norwegians all over the world.

The 17th of May is a day of fun and celebration for children and adults alike with colorful costumes, parades, music, and ice cream, but it also a very important historical day for all Norwegians and Norwegian Americans.

This issue’s Barneblad introduces you and your kids to 17 facts about the history of the 17th of May: Why do we celebrate it? Who were some of the famous Norwegians who helped shape this day? When did it become a special day for children?

#1 We celebrate the 17th of May—Syttende Mai—because the Norwegian Constitution was signed on May 17, 1814, in Eidsvoll. It is the Norwegian national holiday.

Eidsvoll 1814

image: Public Domain / Wikimedia
“Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814,” Oscar Wergeland.

Henrik Wergeland

Images: Public Domain / Wikimedia
Henrik Wergeland by C.P. Lehmann.

#2 The famous author Henrik Wergeland was one of the first Norwegians who wanted to make the 17th of May into a national day of celebration. He wrote the first national song for children: “We are a nation, we too.”

#3 During his lifetime, Henrik Wergeland was known as the “Syttende Mai King.”

#4 Henrik’s father, Nicolai Wergeland, was among the 112 men who met at Eidsvoll to write and sign the Norwegian Constitution.

#5 The Norwegian Constitution has been changed several times since 1814. An important change granted full rights to Jewish people in 1851. Today in Norway, all people are considered equal.

17th of May

Image: National Library of Norway / Wikimedia
A 1906 children’s parade in front of the palace in Oslo.

#6 The first 17th of May children’s parade (barnetog) took place in 1870. It included only boys, about 200 of them the first year. With time, girls joined in, and we have come to call Syttende Mai “the Children’s Day.”

17th of May

Image: Ernst Vikne / Wikimedia
The royal family waves from the balcony of the palace. In the small photo, taken in 2007, we see Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Queen Sonja and King Harald.

#7 For over 100 years, the king and the rest of the Norwegian royal family have waved to the children from the balcony of the royal palace in Oslo. They only skipped the years of World War II, 1940-1944.

#8 The first school band to play at a Syttende Mai parade, in 1902, was formed in September 1901.

17th of May band

image: David Pedersen
A marching band from Ballard High School performs in Seattle’s Syttende Mai parade.

#9 Bands are one of the biggest and most important activities for kids. In Norway over 27,000 kids play in bands, and they come out and play on Syttende Mai.


mage: Esther van Noy
Traditionally dressed Norwegians on a vintage postcard (we are selling these at

#10 Norwegians started to wear bunads, the folk costumes we know today, on the 17th of May a little over 100 years ago.

#11 Bunads were inspired by the festive clothes that Norwegian farmers wore in the 1800s.

Hulda Garborg

Image: National Library / Wikimedia
Hulda Garborg.

#12 Hulda Garborg was a popular writer, novelist, playwright, poet, folk dancer, and theater instructor. She was very important for the tradition of the folk costume in Norway. She liked to wear a Panama hat and gloves with her bunads.

#13 Since the 1920s it has been popular to dress children up in bunads to dance in rings, or leikarringar.

Ja vi elsker dette landet

The Norwegian national anthem Ja vi elsker dette landet is always sung by young and old alike on Syttende Mai.

#14 For over 140 years children have sung the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet,” translated as “Yes, we love this country.” The text was written by the beloved author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1859, and the melody was composed by Rikard Nordraak.

#15 During the World War II occupation of Norway by the Germans between the years 1940 and 1945, 17th of May parades were forbidden. It was also forbidden to wear the colors of the flag on your clothing.

#16 The red, white, and blue Norwegian flag became an even stronger symbol for Norway on Liberation Day, May 8, 1945, when the World War II German occupation ended.

17th of May ice cream

Photo: Shutterstock

#17 Norwegians eat between five and 10 times as much ice cream in the 17th of May than on any other day of the year. It’s the day that kids—and adults— can eat as much ice cream as they want—enjoy!

Hipp hipp hurra for
Syttende Mai!


Test your knowledge!

17. mai fun facts quiz for small readers:

1. The 17th of May is the Norwegian national holiday.
2. Red, white, and blue are the colors of the flag.
3. Only a few children march in Syttende Mai parades.
4. Many children play in school bands.
5. Bunad is the name for a Norwegian folk costume.
6. Dancing and singing are forbidden on the 17th of May.
7. Kids can eat all the ice cream they want on Syttende Mai.

Click here for the answers.

For bigger readers:

1. Norway’s Constitution was signed in Eidsvoll in 1776.
2. Henrik Wergeland was the first prime minister of Norway.
3. The first 17th of May children’s parade was only for boys.
4. The Norwegian royal family always marched in the 17th of May parade.
5. School bands are a major part of 17th of May celebrations.
6. Norwegians have always worn bunads on Syttende Mai.
7. Hulda Garborg forbade people to wear Panama hats with their folk costumes.
8. Children have dressed up in folk costumes to dance in leikarringar since the 1920s.
9. During the World War II Occupation by the Germans, Norwegians marched in parades on the 17th of May in protest.
10. Children are only allowed to eat red, white, and blue ice cream on Syttende Mai.

Click here for the answers.

This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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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.