May 17th did not come easy

  • May 15, 2023
  • Member POV
By Izabella Santos, Psychology Student, BNCC Member

Once part of Denmark, Norway declared its independence in 1814 to avoid being ceded to Sweden. Independence was declared in the form of a constitution after Denmark was defeated in the Napoleonic Wars. This day is known as the 17th of May or Syttende Mai. However, this plan did not work, and the union between Norway and Sweden became a fact. Swedish King Karl III Johan – a familiar name perhaps, as seen in the famous shopping avenue in Oslo – forbade celebrations, for it was thought of as a rebellion against the Union. Yet, this did not stop Norwegians from celebrating the 17th of May, and after the Battle of the Square in 1829, Karl Johan had no other choice but to allow Norwegians to celebrate their day.

The Union with Sweden was soon dissolved in 1905 and Prince Carl from Denmark became the King of what is now an independent country. Prince Carl then became King Haakon VII.

This was not the only time Norwegians were deprived of their right to celebrate this day. During World War II, the Nazis occupied Norway and any sort of manifestation regarding Constitution Day was forbidden. Norwegians could not use the flag colors, let alone go on processions. On Liberation Day, May 8th, 1945; the Norwegian colors and flag became a strong symbol of freedom. The long historical process culminated in a parade that happens all over the country on May 17th to celebrate years of fighting for political freedom and independence.

The May 17th holiday is known for its non-military nature. All over the country kids celebrate the holiday by marching with flags. The longest parade is in Oslo, where about 100,000 participate in the events and celebrate the festivities. The Oslo parade reunites about 100 schools, and marching bands, and passes in front of  the Royal Palace, where the Royal family stands on the balcony to greet the people.

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