17th of May Celebration in Norway – COVID Special

Norway’s National Day

The seventeenth of May or “Syttende Mai” as we say in Norway is our National Day. It’s a day of children parades, marching bands, waving to the King and having bbq with friends and family. There is a massive intake of ice cream, hot dogs and cakes. An amazing celebration that nobody want to miss out on. At least not until now…

It had been pretty clear for a while that this years Syttende Mai celebration would be different. No parades and no big groups of people coming together. Lately we had all been asking ourselves, what are we going to do this year?

A couple of weeks ago, an event on Facebook emerged, saying “Boat Cortege on the Oslo fjord on the 17th of May.” (It’s actually called a Convoy when it’s on the water… but I’ll let that pass). “Boat Parades” on the 17th of May is not a new concept, and it has been going on in more southern parts of Norway for years, but for Oslo this would be a first.

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Together with my girlfriend, Gabrielle, we invited a couple of friends to join us on my sailboat. To make sure we would get to the Convoy for the start at 10:00am we got up at 6:30 that morning. We put on some nice (and warm) clothes and headed to the harbor with our friends Andrea and Rodrigo. At 09:30, after decorating the boat with Norwegian flags and birch leaves (a tradition for any vehicle on the 17th), I fired up the Volvo Diesel engine on my sailboat, and we set the iron sail towards the starting point of the Parade.

I was not quite sure what to expect from this boat parade. I had seen on the event page that there would be hundreds of participants, but as we turned around the corner of the marina and gazed towards the starting point we were shocked! A massive white crowd of boats off all sizes and types were gathering. We had never seen anything like it! I turned on my VHF radio and put it on channel 72 (it was announced this would be the channel for the convoy), and it was announced that probably around 1200-1300 boats had showed up.

Approaching the starting point we were followed by boats of all different types. Sailing boats, motor yachts, wooden boats, classical boats and even some people in kayaks. All beautifully decorated with flags, birch leaves and smiling people on board (including myself).

The Parade Starts!

The start signal of the Parade came and off we went. Up in front was the well known full rigger ship “Christian Radich” showing the way. The plan was to start a bit out in the fjord, and from here move towards the main waterfront area called Aker Brygge. First we had to navigate our way in between the picturesque small islands of Oslo.

It was such a joy! People had treated this as an ordinary walking parade, and some had dressed up in their national costumes, and were playing the typical “marches” that we are used to hear, on their boat stereos. Every now and then the National Anthem would be played and several boats in the vicinity would sing together. Kids were having their ice cream and hot dogs, and the grown ups enjoyed some bubbles in their glasses.

We “marched” like this for about two hours. Smiling and waiving and having a jolly good time out on the water. It was a Syttende Mai that I will never forget… And all though I would like for next year to have the marching bands and the children parade back, I think some of us will make it a tradition of staying out on the water.

Thanks for reading. Check out some photos below.


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Hei Hei! I’m Pål. Your travel guide to Norway.

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Tour guide, travel writer & YouTuber. Passionate about sailing, hiking, history, food, art and travel.