Seven snapshots of Syttende Mai
A brief pictorial history of Grunnlovsdagen, compiled by M. Michael Brady
The celebration of Syttende Mai as we know it today started unpretentiously after the Constitution was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814.
At first, only students and other young patriots celebrated the day. At the time, Norway was in a union with Sweden; for several years, King Karl Johan of Norway and Sweden was reluctant to allow celebrations of Syttende Mai and briefly banned them in the 1820s. The public disagreed with the king, which led to armed confrontation in 1829, when soldiers tried to subdue the celebration at the Market Square in Kristiania (now Oslo)
In 1833, celebration of Syttende Mai was officially permitted. By 1864, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, celebration of the day had become an integral part of the life in the country, and Bank Manager F.H. Frølich set up a monument commemorating the anniversary at Frognerseteren, in the hills above Oslo.
In 1889 in Bergen, an anchored Viking Age Drekar was the speaker’s stage for the Syttende Mai celebration, and a banner associated with it is carried in parades to this day.
Then in 1893 artist Christian Krohg painted the Syttende Mai celebration, featuring the Norwegian flag without the Norwegian-Swedish union emblem, for its time a daring protest.
Thereafter, the popularity of Syttende Mai celebrations grew steadily and became part of the country’s tradition, ever so much so after the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905 and the start of a new royal house with King Haakon VII as the ruling monarch. From 1940 to 1945, when Norway was occupied, celebrating Syttende Mai was prohibited by the forces of occupation but celebrated elsewhere by Norwegians in exile. In 1942, Syttende Mai was celebrated with a Norwegian children’s parade in Trafalger Square in London.
The royal family watching the parade from the Palace balcony has become part of the tradition of Syttende Mai. Curiously, they look southward down Oslo’s main street, the route of the parade, named Karl Johans Gate, in honor of the king who once briefly banned celebration of the day.
This article originally appeared in the May 5, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.