Ah, the Norwegian May 17th celebration—a day filled with national pride, lively parades, great food, drinks and joyous festivities. Let’s explore Norway’s national day and what it’s all about!
Syttende mai, as we call it, is our constitution day, and for many Norwegians, May 17th evokes fond childhood memories, filled with innocent mischief (like blowing up mail boxes!) and traditions passed down through generations. But the real party is on the May 16th!
Enter the Norwegian Russ!
Norwegian Russ, or simply “Russ,” refers to Norwegian high school graduates who participate in a unique and often raucous tradition that culminates in the very, very early hours on May 17th, Norway’s National Day. Russ celebrations are known for their exuberance, distinctive attire, excessive drinking, and lively antics.
The Russ period typically begins in mid-April and lasts until May 17th. During this time, Russ students wear specially designed overalls called “Russdress”, red, blue and black overalls, that are customized with patches, slogans, and artwork representing their chosen Russ group or individual achievements. These Russdress serve as a badge of honor and a symbol of camaraderie among the Russ.
On May 17th, Russ students join the nationwide celebrations, adding their own unique flair to the festivities, totally worn out and hung over from nearly 24 hours of drinking and little sleep.
So naturally, many teens and young adults join forces with the Russ on May 16th, and I have many, ahem, vague and hazy memories from this period of my life, over 25 years ago…
The Norwegian Bunad
Imagine being a young Norwegian, waking up on this special day to the sound of national anthems and the sight of proud citizens donning their traditional costumes, known as bunads. These intricately designed garments, varying by region, are a nostalgic symbol of cultural heritage.
As the festivities kick off, you’ll find yourself immersed in a symphony of Norwegian songs, sung with unapologetic gusto. From “Ja vi elsker dette landet” to “Vi er en nasjon vi med”, the melodies fill the air, stirring up a collective sense of pride and unity.
Of course, no celebration is complete without speeches. As the crowd gathers in town squares and parks, eloquent orators take to the stage, delivering addresses that inspire, entertain, and occasionally make us roll our eyes in pure and utter cringe. But hey, it’s all part of the charm!
What do Norwegians eat on May 17th?
Food is an important part of any celebration, and Norway is no exception. On May 17th, Norwegians typically indulge in traditional Norwegian cuisine.
One popular food item consumed on May 17th is the “pølse i lompe,” a type of hot dog wrapped in a thin potato pancake and topped with ketchup, mustard, and crisp fried onions. It’s a simple yet tasty snack that can be found at food stands throughout the country during the parades.
The same goes with ice cream cones, and I remember my grandma always secretly palming me like 50 bucks (or something equally outrageous) “for a hot dog and an ice cream”.
Another popular May 17th food item is the “grillmat,” which is grilled meat, typically sausages or burgers or chops, served with various side dishes like potato salad, coleslaw, or jacket potatoes. Many families host barbecues in their backyards or at local parks and beaches to celebrate the day.
Norwegian waffles, or “vafler,” are also a staple of May 17th celebrations. These crispy, heart-shaped waffles are often served with a dollop of sourcream and typically raspberry or strawberry jam.
Some will even combine these traditions and put a hotdog (Pølse) in their waffle (Vaffel), making it a Pøffel!
Finally, “Kransekake,” a traditional Norwegian cake made from almond paste, is a popular dessert on May 17th. It’s a tower-shaped cake that’s often decorated with Norwegian flags and is a must-have at any May 17th celebration, and my grandma made THE BEST kransekake!
And there you have it! Norwegians celebrate May 17th completely hung over, worn out, dressed in Bunad or Russedress, while eating traditional Norwegian foods like pølse i lompe, grillmat, waffles, and Kransekake. These foods are enjoyed during parades, barbecues, and family gatherings throughout the country.
As for ourselves, we’ll be quietly and casually celebrating with some of our expat friends with some good beer and probably something off the grill – if the weather allows!