Alone on the 17th of May / Columns / The Foreigner

Alone on the 17th of May. Norway’s Constitution Day arrived suddenly my first year, as international holidays do to those who aren’t used to celebrating them. That was three years ago. Looking back now, I realize there’d been plenty of signs in the weeks leading up to it. Planter boxes suddenly overflowing with freshly planted tulips, their yellow heads the size of coffee mugs; and, of course, an onslaught of teenagers in cherry-red pants. But I’ll get back to that. We’d heard that my husband’s office would be closed in observance of the Syttende Mai holiday, and I had done a little research so I would know what to expect. I was hoping for something akin to our own Fourth of July. Only living in Norway less than a month, I worried that we would be excluded from the festivities. Then Jonathan forwarded an email invitation from his boss.

norwayconstitution, 17thmay, constitutionbicentennial



The Foreigner Logo

The Foreigner is an online publication for English speakers living or who have an interest in Norway. Whether it’s a glimpse of news or entertainment you’re after, there’s no need to leave your linguistic armchair. You don’t need to cry over the demise of the English pages of Aftenposten.no, The Foreigner is here!

Norske nyheter på engelsk fra Norge. The Foreigner er en engelskspråklig internett avis for de som bor eller som er interessert i Norge.

Google+ Google+ Twitter Facebook RSS RSS



Columns Article

LATEST:

Alone on the 17th of May

Published on Saturday, 17th May, 2014 at 00:12 under the columns category, by Audrey Camp.

Norway’s Constitution Day arrived suddenly my first year, as international holidays do to those who aren’t used to celebrating them.

17th May flags and banners in Oslo
Norway's National Day is colourful and a celebration.17th May flags and banners in Oslo
Photo: ©2010 The Foreigner/Jess Chandler


That was three years ago. Looking back now, I realize there’d been plenty of signs in the weeks leading up to it. Planter boxes suddenly overflowing with freshly planted tulips, their yellow heads the size of coffee mugs; and, of course, an onslaught of teenagers in cherry-red pants. But I’ll get back to that.

We’d heard that my husband’s office would be closed in observance of the Syttende Mai holiday, and I had done a little research so I would know what to expect. I was hoping for something akin to our own Fourth of July. Only living in Norway less than a month, I worried that we would be excluded from the festivities. Then Jonathan forwarded an email invitation from his boss.

“I’d like to invite all foreign workers in our Oslo office (+ one guest) for brunch on May 17th at noon,” it read.

Relieved, I marked the event on my calendar. With native Norwegians hosting, I knew we’d get a better taste of their traditions. But I was looking forward to the parade before the brunch!

Barnetoger (children’s parades) take place the morning of 17th May all over the country. In Oslo, the parade begins down by the water and winds uphill to the Royal Palace. About 100 schools and marching bands participate and the number of spectators can reach above 100,000, making it the largest event in the country!

The crowds had already swarmed over the hill by the time we arrived at the palace that morning. Many men wore black, wool knickers and tall socks with red tassels at the knee. Their ladies swished across the green lawns in long, dark skirts. Bright bits of silver--buttons and delicate chains--flashed in the sunlight. They wore embroidered caps and puffed, white sleeves. It was my first glimpse of Norwegian bunader, traditional national costumes unique to the region of the wearer's birth. Everyone seemed to be waving Norwegian flags. Karl Johans gate was a river of red, white, and blue.

We found a spot under the trees on the east lawn and watched as the children marched up the red-graveled road, each school hoisting a banner aloft with its name and mascot emblazoned upon it.

As they passed the imposing, green statue of King Karl Johan on his trusty steed, I thought about what I’d learned of Norway’s history. Karl Johan inherited his throne, ruling over both Sweden and Norway, only four years after Norway’s Constitution was signed in 1814. The Constitution declared Norway an independent nation for the first time, and the new king initially banned all such celebrations because he was worried about dealing with a violent and costly revolt.

I suppose he eventually got over it. Still, Norway wouldn’t have its own king until 1905, when Haakon VII arrived from Denmark with his wife British Princess Maud and their baby son, Olav.

The children marched onward and turned left to cross in front of the palace—a beautiful 19th century building of yellow and white. The red and gold royal standard flapped in the breeze at the apex of the roof. King Harald V, the grandson of Haakon VII, and his wife Queen Sonja stood on the second-storey balcony between a set of six shining, white pillars. They waved and smiled at the children below.

Whistles and applause and the sharp, metallic blast of trumpets filled the spring air. And then, even among 100,000 people, I suddenly felt quite alone.

Nobody loves a good parade more than me, but so much seemed to be missing. There were no grizzled bikers on Harley’s streaming stars and stripes and exhaust in their wake. No four-year-old dancers wiggling around in sequined leotards to Beyonce’s latest. No Rodeo Queen on a prancing quarter horse. No antique convertible, sponsored by a local diner, with a small town mayor riding high on the back seat. No smell of barbecue. It wasn’t the Fourth of July, and I was an imposter.

Then a woman approached us. Daisies danced around the embroidered hem of her skirt. She squinted at me, against the sun, and pushed a pair of Norwegian flags into my hand. Patted my arm. Smiled. Moved on.

We were thus prepared for the parade’s finale: the Russ. These soon-to-be graduates and their signature costume of bright red caps and overalls are unique to Norway. We gaped at them that day, like ornithologists coming upon a gaggle of rare birds. They whistled and whooped, enjoying their moment in the sun. A passing. A final moment of indulgence before adulthood. We cheered them, equipped with our new flags

And we cheered for Norway. For the peaceful determination of its ascent to independence. For its warm, proud, welcoming people. For the children who make up the heart of this national celebration. As the Russ walked on, we hurried to catch the tram to Jonathan’s boss’s place for brunch. We had a lot of questions, and 17th May seemed exactly the day to begin asking them.

Audrey Camp is a freelance writer and American expat living in Oslo with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her essays have appeared in a variety literary magazines and anthologies, including Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories from Yosemite. Audrey blogs about life in Norway at The Girl Behind the Red Door. To learn more, visit audreycamp.com., Twitter: @audreycamp.



Published on Saturday, 17th May, 2014 at 00:12 under the columns category, by Audrey Camp.

This post has the following tags: norwayconstitution, 17thmay, constitutionbicentennial.





  
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!