For a secular country, Norway observes heaps of religious holidays (and by “observe”, I mean get days off work). May in particular, is a month full of holidays – religious and otherwise, including 1 May (the international labour day), Ascension Day and Whit Monday.
However, the most important of all is 17 May – Syttende mai!
17 May is Norway’s national day and it’s a very, very big deal, ranking right up there with Christmas! Wherever in the world two or more Norwegians are gathered on 17 May, there is sure to be parades, picnics and parties, including in most major US cities, such as New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. In fact, some of these cities have had elaborate 17 May-celebrations since the 1800s.
But, of course, the biggest celebration of all will be in Oslo. By 9 am, the city is full of people wearing their best clothes and carrying flags. Most will wear a bunad, the national costume. At 10 am, the schools line up for a parade through the streets of Oslo, up main street Karl Johan and directly underneath the balcony of the Royal Palace, where the royal family will be for hours and hours, waving at everyone.
After the children’s parade is finished, the Russ (rowdy high school graduates) have their parade. Later in the afternoon, various activities are organised in all neighbourhoods: picnics, games and heaps of family fun.
If for some reason you can’t see a 17 May-parade in person, all the major TV-stations televise the event. Usually, two or three parades around the world are featured, in addition to the main one in Oslo. In 2009, you could see footage from the celebrations in Doha, Qatar and in Busan, South Korea.
If you plan on visiting Oslo, try to be here on 17 May. It’s really nothing like it anywhere.