Exploring Norway by train: Celebrating 17th of May in Oslo
Line Bredrup Petersen
Norway’s National Day, the 17th of May, is the day when we celebrate being independent and being Norwegian—because that is what it is all about!
On the 17th of May, we turn into an emotional, self-loving tribe. We dress up in the traditional costume, the bunad, listen to our national anthem, and embrace our country and ourselves. Our eyes get wet while we sing along to “Ja vi elsker.” On this special day, we open up our hearts and embrace every Norwegian; we all love each other on this holiday.
We even manage to put aside our Norwegian habit of not greeting or making conversations with strangers. As we all know, Norwegians aren’t known for opening up to strangers for the simple reason that we do not speak unless there is a practical reason to.
The bunad is therefore an important part of making conversations with strangers on the 17th of May. With more than 150 different origins and styles available for purchase, we all love to discuss our bunads and go in depth on topics ranging from how to style our hair to the traditions that our very own bunads represent.
My bunad was hand sewn and customized when I was 15 and gifted by my parents for my confirmation. As we bought a bunad that had its origin from where we lived, not where my parents are from, we went a little against the unwritten bunad rules. However, Lillehammer and Gudbrandsdalen felt more like home at the time than Nøtterøy and Vestfold. My Gudbrandsdalen bunad comes in two colors: blue and black. I went with the blue as it goes well with my eyes and skin tone. It came with basic silver, and as I’ve grown older, my mother has bought me a new piece from time to time like the big round one in front and the earrings. The silver belt I bought with my own money when I had my bunad customized for a more mature body shape a few years ago. My bunad means a lot to me because every part of it was gifted from people I love and appreciate. It also has to do with always having the traditional items of clothing to wear, and in my family we wear our bunads for baptisms and confirmations. In addition to the 17th of May, of course!
This year, Nicole Sewell from Seattle was our special guest in Oslo for the big celebration, and we made sure that she got to experience a typical national feast for young adults. What is the typical feast like? That is really dependent on whether you have children or not.
If you do, your day starts earlier than mine, as all schools in Oslo participate in the parade. In other words, make sure that your bunad shoes are worn in as you’ll be crossing Oslo following your cute little ones in their parade! When the parade is over, I hope that you’ve made sure that you have money with you; 17th of May is the day where all children are entitled to eat as many popsicles as they can. And don’t you forget to buy that ridiculously expensive balloon either! When you’ve made a few ice cream stops, you go back to the school where the unfortunate parents chosen that year have been in charge of arranging activities, games, and food for the whole school. This parental responsibility is a part of our dugnad tradition. When the games at the schools are over, after a few hours, you go home with your family and relax and treat those sore feet. In addition, you’ll need to calm down your children that are so extraordinarily high on sugar.
If you’re like me and a part of the single social scene of Oslo, your 17th of May starts a little bit later. You have one or two champagne breakfasts or brunches to attend, and you’re normally expected to show up around 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. After enjoying traditional Norwegian cold foods such as scrambled eggs, dried ham, brown cheese, and waffles, you head downtown to watch the parade. No sore feet here, in other words. And if your bunad shoes are new, you won’t notice anyways as you’ve had a lot of champagne with breakfast! After watching the parade for an hour or so, you go back to where you had the brunch or visit some other friends for rømmegrøt and more champagne. Many of us make sure to take the day after off and continue the party until we get tired or the amount of alcohol doesn’t allow us to wear our bunad in public anymore; the unwritten rule of the bunad, saying that you should not be drunk while wearing it, either makes us go home and change or go home to sleep. Depending on how much of a party animal you are, of course!
So what did the American with no Norwegian connection besides our friendship think of the 17th of May celebration? When comparing to the 4th of July, she found that while the holiday in America is all about the beer, the food, and the partying, in Norway it is all about the traditions and honoring our history. And, not surprisingly, she was obsessed with the bunads and the many variations she got to see throughout the day.
As she had never visited Norway, it was important for me to give her the opportunity to see as much as possible—and traveling by train is just perfect for that. In the following months, you can follow our journey through Norway by train. This very first feature article will be one of many as we continue on a journey through the country from Oslo onto Gudbrandsdalen, Trondheim, Nordland, Bodø, and Lofoten. As the scenery is an important part of traveling in Norway, I hope that our tips on what to see and do will be both entertaining and useful.
Line Bredrup Petersen (30) is a Norwegian columnist, text writer, and marketing advisor living in Oslo. She is the great-great-granddaughter of the builders of the Leif Erikson Viking ship in Duluth, Minn.
This article originally appeared in the June 17, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.