Bunad: A modern tradition

Streaming from filmsofnorway.com

The Norwegian American

If you haven’t yet subscribed to Films of Norway, one of your partner organizations based in Stavanger, Norway, there certainly isn’t any better time than now. With Norwegian Constitution Day coming on May 17, what better time to immerse yourself in the Norwegian language and culture, and what better way to do it than through entertaining and educational films?

As most of you know by now, I am quite a film buff, and I do a lot of streaming here at home to preview films for my team and readers. That is why it has been so exciting to partner with Films of Norway. A smaller streaming service compared to Netflix, ViaPlay, and others, they are able to offer programming not available elsewhere.

One of them is the short Bunad: A modern tradition—and what could be more perfect viewing for the 17th of May.

In this mini-documentary, you will learn about the history of the bunad and the role it plays in Norwegian life today. You might even call it “The tradition of the bunad in seven minutes and 15 seconds.”

The title of the film, Bunad: A modern tradition, is a bit of an oxymoron, as you will see in the first few frames of the film. The bunad is by no means a modern tradition, with its roots in the National Romantic movement in late 19th century. A strong sense of Norwegian identity emerged during this period in Norwegian history, a strong sense of national identity emerged, and people wanted to express it with their clothing.

At the forefront was the nynorsk author and activist Hulda Garborg (1862–1934), who first used the word bunad, derived from the Old Norse word bunaþr, meaning “equipment.” From the beginning, the bunad was connected to regional identity.

After World War II and the five years of German occupation, these feelings of regional and national pride became even stronger, and the popularity of the bunad grew.

But what makes the bunad “modern” in this short film are the snippets of interviews with young Norwegians who talk about what the bunad means to them and why they want to wear one.

A teenage boy explains, “I think they look amazing, and they’re traditional. I like following the traditions of my family.” All the subjects interviewed express a strong sense of belonging and pride in being Norwegian.

The interviews take place at the Embla Bunader boutique in Stavanger. Some may be surprised to learn that the bunads for sale there are sewn in a  workshop in Chiang Mai, China. This may seem to take something out of the genuine Norwegian bunad experience, but with lower production costs, it has made the bunad more accessible to a wider public.

“Everyone who wants a bunad should have a bunad,” says company CEO Marianne Lambersøy.

Now you may ask whether you need to see this mini-doc now that you know all about it? The answer is yes, of course: you need to see the beautiful bunads in full color and listen to the beautiful Norwegian (with English subtitles). For only $5, you check it and other films out at filmsofnorway.com—happy streaming and happy 17. mai!

This article originally appeared in the May 2023 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.