Why Norway Celebrates the 17th of May

National day in Norway parade

Why Norway Celebrates the 17th of May

National day in Norway parade

Take a bunch of Norwegian flags, traditional costumes (bunad), marching bands, the Royal Family, children parades and mix it with hot dogs, ice cream waffles, champagne breakfast, BBQ in a park and you’ll have the ingredients for how many Norwegians celebrate the 17th of May, Norway’s National Day.

But what is this day really all about? Read on below the photo to learn why this day is such a big deal in Norway.

National day in Norway parade
17th of May Parade in Oslo

Norway and her Unions

After about 400 years of union with Denmark, Norway’s history came to a turning point in the year 1814.

During the Napoleonic wars Denmark-Norway had been on the side of Napoleon. Sweden however, had been on the other side, which was the winning side.

A deal was made in the wake of the Napoleonic wars that Sweden was to be compensated with something, and that something was Norway. In other words, Norway was handed over as war booty from Denmark to Sweden. And just like that we entered a new union with the Swedes and was ruled by the Swedish King. If you want to read more, check out this article on Wikipedia about the Kiel Treaty

The Norwegian Constitution

Norway at that time was not interested in this union, and because of this hurried up and wrote their own constitution. It was signed on the 17th of May 1814. In the constitution Norway claimed their independence and elected the Danish Prince Christian Fredrik as the new King of Norway.

Sweden wanted what had been promised to them, and a war broke out in late July 1814. It only lasted for about three weeks, the Swedes won, and Norway was forced into the new union.

The constitution had to be revised though, and in the new version of November 4th Norway had to accept a Swedish King, but at the same time gained more freedom than they had before under the Danes.

King Karl Johan of Sweden and Norway

The Celebration begins!

Even though the constitution was signed in 1814, it took some years before the celebration of it started. The Swedish King Karl Johan (who overtook the throne in 1818) did not want Norway to celebrate the constitution of May 17th, but rather the revised one of November the 4th.

Most Norwegians however wanted to celebrate on the 17th of May, and chose to do so even though the King threatened to violently stop any celebration on that day. Ironically the resistance that Karl Johan showed towards this day made it even more important for the Norwegians. In 1836 the Parliament, for the first time, invited to a public celebration.

When we talk about the 17th of May in Norway, Henrik Wergeland is considered one of the most important Norwegians with his many speeches and poems that he wrote for this day.

Later on in the 1870s the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson started organizing children parades, and he also wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian National Anthem: Ja, vi elsker dette landet

Children parade on Norway's national day
3 hours of non stop parade!

Independence from Sweden

In 1905 Norway gained their independence from the Swedes, and in 1906 the 17th of May celebration became even stronger and more important. This was also the year that the parade started to walk by the Royal Palace with King Haakon and Queen Maud waving from the balcony, a tradition that is still in place today.

Since then, except for the war years (1940-45) the day has been publicly celebrated, but got a huge boost when the war was over, and took its shape into the massive celebration that it is today.

I hope you learned a thing or two. Thank you, tusen takk for reading!

If you’d like to see some videos from the parade, feel free to Enlist as a Viking on my Patreon. This gives you even more access to all things Norway and to my everyday life. It also supports me and helps me continue running Norway with Pål.

Ha en fin dag! Have a great day!


Your friend in Norway,


Pål of Norway With Pål

Pål of Norway With Pål

Norway native, veteran travel guide, sailor, filmmaker, and writer (you might have seen me in one of Rick Steves’ guidebooks!). I want to help you enjoy Norway the right way — like a local. Learn more about me.

DISCLAIMER: Products on this page may contain affiliate links, and I might make a small sum per purchase. For you this does not affect the product price, but supports me and my work, and makes me able to continue sharing my passion for Norway with you. Read the Disclaimer policy. Thank you, tusen takk!

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