Festivities in Oslo (Festligheter) – Celebrate 17 May!
Written by Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Unsplash
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Oslo on 17 May any given year, you’re in for an experience like nothing else. Whether sunny, rainy or snowy, this is the one day of the year when Norwegians all dress up in their national costumes, grab a Norwegian flag, and head outside to celebrate Norway’s Constitution Day. Norway’s constitution was signed on 17 May 1814, and this has been a day for celebration ever since.
17 May is mainly the children’s day, and in every city, town and village in Norway, children and marching bands parade down the streets waving flags, chanting, and singing songs about love, freedom and Norway. Oslo has the biggest parade, consisting of selected schools, lasting several hours and filling the city with life and colour. The highlight of the parade is when it passes by the Royal Palace, where the royal family spends the day greeting the children from the balcony. Norwegian TV live broadcasts the celebrations from every corner of the country, from the tiniest fishing villages to the largest cities.
Schools tend to have their own celebrations once the parade is over, with games, food, entertainment and competitions for the pupils and their families to enjoy. The day is also the culmination of the month-long graduation celebration of Norwegian ‘videregående’ pupils (finishing the equivalent of high school), known as ‘russefeiring’, when they don costumes in colours reflecting their particular school or field of study. Russefeiring has been a tradition since 1905 but is controversial due to public disturbances, health risks and other problems linked to alcohol consumption and drunkennes. It’s also regarded as problematic due to taking place just before the final exams, leading some students to party their revision days away. Still, the ‘russ’ are a traditional part of the city streets on 17 May, and once the children’s parade is over, the russ take over with loud music and party time in ‘russetoget’, their own parade, showing off their cars, vans, buses and other vehicles rebuilt and re-decorated to match their groupings, schools and squads. In the districts and villages, you might even see a ‘russe’ tractor or two.
Mostly, this day is about family, friends and children, and it’s important to know that on 17 May, you’re allowed to eat as many ice creams and hotdogs as you want!
Celebrate 17 May as a Norwegian:
Most Norwegians have the day off, so the day is spent with family or friends, and often begins with a traditional Champagne breakfast. It usually consists of a literal smorgasbord, known as ‘koldtbord’, filled with good food, fruit, waffles, juices and, of course, Champagne. Everybody wears their nicest clothes, whether it’s a Norwegian traditional ‘bunad’ or other pretty but weather appropriate clothes.
Once you’re stuffed, it’s time to head outside and find a good spot for the parade. Forget driving – almost all the streets in central Oslo are closed off on 17 May to make way for pedestrians. Opt for public transport or walk.
Celebrate with the children. The parades are full of songs, chants and cheer, often in a call-and-respons fashion. Learn the words and join in the fun!
After the parade, it’s time to find a place to eat, unless you’re visiting or hosting a party at somebody’s house. Most places don’t accept reservations on 17 May, so queuing might take time unless you’re lucky or head a little bit outside the city centre. As a worst-case scenario, opt for ice cream – it’ll be available everywhere and officially counts as food on this special day.
If celebrating at home, another smorgasbord is usually appropriate. Dinner is typically light, with cured meats, sour cream porridge, sandwiches, omelettes, hot dogs, and cakes with lots of whipped cream and berries.
Wear your Norwegian or Sami flag at all times, but make sure never to point it downwards or let it touch the ground – and don’t disrespect it. Norwegians take their flag very seriously, and it’s never on display unless it’s a so-called flag day. Even on flag days, there are protocols as to when the flag is allowed to fly. It’s allowed to be raised from 8am but should always be lowered at either sunset or 9pm, whichever comes first. The north of Norway has different times to adhere to, as greater parts of the day are dark.
When the day is over, drink lots of water and put your feet up. They will be sore, and you will be dehydrated.
Oslo is a vibrant city with plenty of events happening throughout the year. Festivals take place both in the summer and in the winter, there are free cultural happenings, and each night of the week, there are concerts taking place in one of the city’s many live music venues.
Annually, usually in March
Holmenkollen Skifestival, often referred to as Kollen-helgen (‘The Kollen Weekend’), is an annual festival of various skiing tournaments taking place in Holmenkollen. Though parts of the event area are ticketed, several of the events take place in nonticketed areas, allowing everyone to get a glimpse of their sports heroes. The Norwegian term ‘Kollenbrølet’ relates to the roar produced by the excited crowds at the Holmenkollen ski-jumping competitions.
Inferno Metal Festival
More than any other genre of music, Norway is famous for its black metal, and every year, extreme metal festival Inferno Metal Festival paints Oslo black during Easter.
June, date TBA The biggest free concert tour of the year is VG-lista Topp 20, which stops by Rådhusplassen in Oslo every year. With a line-up consisting of the biggest teen idols, pop stars and celebrities, the concerts draw thousands of young attendees each year for a celebration of the Norwegian Top-20 chart show.
Norwegians love their picnics, and the annual city-based festival Piknik i Parken (‘Picnic in the Park’) embraces the picnic culture to the max as Sofienbergparken fills to the brim with people, music and summer vibes.
Tons Of Rock
Tons Of Rock caters to fans of commercially successful rock. Originally a Halden festival, Tons Of Rock relocated to Oslo in 2019.
Summer half of the year
Though Oslo has several football teams fighting in the upper Norwegian divisions, it’s the Norwegian national team that draws the biggest crowds. While it’s far from the best national team in Europe, or even Scandinavia, Norwegians are faithful fans, and if there’s a national game happening, they’ll meet in football pubs, party downtown and make friends with fans from the opposite team before heading to the stadium – more often than not to have their hopes crushed once more. But ‘uffda’, that’s ok, as they say; it was a fun day anyway.
Norwegians love festivals, and some of the biggest ones take place in Oslo. The biggest of them all is Øyafestivalen, an annual music festival taking place in Tøyenparken in the city centre every August. For four days on end – in addition to one multi-venue club day in the city – the park is filled with thousands of happy festivalgoers enjoying some of the biggest national and international names in music. Øyafestivalen is a multi-awardwinning non-camping festival, and in February 2020, it won International Greener Festival Award, pinning it as the greenest festival in the world. Ecological and sustainable festival food and beer served in eco-friendly containers and reusable glasses are only a small part of the eco aspect of the festival. Renewable energy and meticulous recycling of the remaining waste are others. But for the festival visitors, it is the relaxed vibe, good music, and unbeatable location that is important.
Another free-to-attend festival is Musikkfest, an annual festival celebrating music, taking place in the streets of Oslo on the first Saturday of June. Local arrangers and livemusic venues move their stages out onto the streets, and bands from all conceivable genres entertain crowds all over the city for free. Many eateries also move outside for the crowds to be able to enjoy food and drink along with the music.
Oslo Culture Night
For one night only, 200 of the city’s museums, venues, galleries, and historical sites open their doors for anyone to visit free of charge. Get guided tours, learn about local history, explore places you might not normally visit, or listen to music you might not normally choose.
Elvelangs i fakkellys
Elvelangs i fakkellys (‘Along the river by torchlight’) is an annual event usually taking place in September along the Akerselva River. For one night, all the electric lights along the river are switched off and replaced with 4,500 torches. 1,500 cultural experiences including choirs, theatre troupes, art installations, light installations and dance performances entertain the approximately 40,000 people walking the eight-kilometre path each year.
Jul i Vinterland
Mid-November to end of December
Christmas is a time of celebration in Norway, and in Oslo, it’s marked by Christmas concerts in the various churches, streets being decorated with lights and Christmas markets popping up in the squares. The biggest Christmas market in Oslo, Jul i Vinterland (‘Christmas in Winterland’) takes place at Spikersuppa in Oslo city centre and includes food stalls, souvenir and handicraft stalls, a free ice-skating rink, bars and eateries, games, and a large Ferris wheel.
For good deals on transport and experiences, buy an Oslo Pass lasting 24, 48 or 72 hours. The pass includes travel on all public transport across the city as well as suburbs and districts (Oslo as well as Lillestrøm, Nittedal, Asker, Ski, Nesodden and Drøbak), and includes free access to several museums and attractions, as well as discounted restaurants, sightseeing and activities. The Oslo pass is available online below.
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