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Cultural Saturday: Norwegian Constitution Day


My Saturday ended up being filled with cultural activities! The day started with a breakfast at 9am at the Norwegian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. (Actually, it is held in the residence of the Ambassador - which I realized as we were wandering around and came upon their personal photos and books!) The celebration commemorates the signing of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814. A little background history: Norway was under Danish rule for 400 years, starting in 1397. After Denmark-Norway found itself on the losing side of the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark was forced to cede Norway to Sweden.

Norway took this opportunity to declare independence, adopted a constitution based on American and French models, and elected the Danish crown prince Christian Fredrik as king on May 17, 1814. This caused a war to break out between Sweden and Norway, as the Swedes had been promised the territory of Norway as a reward for aiding the victors of the Napoleonic wars. However, Sweden's military was not strong enough to defeat the Norwegian forces outright and instead of gaining Norway as a territory, Norway agreed to enter a personal union with Sweden. Under this arrangement, Norway kept its liberal constitution and independent institutions (including its own military forces), except for the foreign service.

So you can say we got to declare independence and establish a constitution - but not for long! There was much resistance among the people to enter such a union with Sweden (they were pretty excited about the constitution and independence) but in the end were not strong enough, so the newly elected Parliament eventually made the necessary changes to the constitution to be able to enter this union. We were in in a union with Sweden until 1905, but interestingly, the 1814 constitution and brief independence is what we celebrate.

Norway takes its 17th of May celebration very seriously. They are bigger than and different from the ways most countries celebrates such occasions. There are no military parades, but rather parades of school children (and sometimes adults as well), many of whom are dressed in the bunad, the traditional Norwegian outfits.

This year, it was the coldest 17th of May in Oslo in 50 years - with near freezing temperatures and SNOW! I was happy that I was celebrating at the embassy in DC!

The breakfast was good (bread, eggs, meats, salmon in many different ways, sweets and treats) and we also did the usual awkward group singing of the national anthem and a few other songs. The best part of my cultural Saturday was the Greek Festival that we went to later, but I will save that for a later post!


Comments (1)

This is so cool! I sent you that email about the Norwegian celebration in NC before I saw this post! Not sure how many Norwegians are here in NC but they must have enough people to have a parade (amazing!).

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