The 17th of May (Syttende Mai) is a day of fun and celebration for children and adults alike – with colorful costumes, parades, music, and ice cream, lots of ice cream! It is also a very important historical day for all Norwegians and descendants around the world, not least in America.
This article introduces you and your kids to 17 facts about the history of the 17th of May: Why do we celebrate it? Who were some of the famous Norwegians who helped shape this day? When did it become a special day for children?
A 1906 children’s parade in front of the palace in Oslo. Photo: National Library of Norway / Wikimedia
We celebrate the 17th of May—Syttende Mai—because the Norwegian Constitution was
signed on May 17th, 1814, at Eidsvoll. It is the Norwegian national
The famous author Henrik Wergeland was one of the first Norwegians who wanted to
make the 17th of May into a national day of celebration. He wrote the first
national song for children: “We are a nation, we too.”
During his lifetime, Henrik Wergeland was known as the “Syttende Mai King.”
Henrik’s father, Nicolai Wergeland, was among the 112 men who met at Eidsvoll to write
and sign the Norwegian Constitution.
The Norwegian Constitution has been changed several times since 1814. An important
change granted full rights to Jewish people in 1851. Today in Norway, all people are considered equal.
“Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814,” Oscar Wergeland. Painting: Riksmuseet i Oslo / Public Domain
The first 17th of May children’s parade
(barnetog) took place in 1870. It included only boys, about 200 of them the
first year. With time, girls joined in, and we have come to call Syttende Mai
“the Children’s Day.”
over 100 years, the king and the rest of the Norwegian royal family have waved
to the children from the balcony of the royal palace in Oslo. They only skipped
the years of German occupation during World War II, 1940-1944.
The first school band to play at a Syttende Mai parade, in 1902, was formed in
Bands are one of the biggest and most important activities for kids. In Norway over
27,000 kids play in bands, and they come out and play on Syttende Mai.
Norwegians started to wear bunads, the folk costumes we know today, on the 17th of May a little over 100 years ago.
Stavanger 2018-05-17. Photo: Norway Today Media
Bunads were inspired by the festive clothes that Norwegian farmers wore in the 1800s.
Hulda Garborg was a popular writer, novelist, playwright, poet, folk dancer, and
theater instructor. She was very important for the tradition of the folk costume
in Norway. She liked to wear a Panama hat and gloves with her bunads.
Since the 1920s it has been popular to dress children up in bunads to dance in rings,
For over 140 years children have sung the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette
landet,” translated as “Yes, we love this country.” The text was written by the
beloved author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1859, and the melody was composed by
During the World War II German occupation of Norway, between the years 1940 and
1945, 17th of May parades were forbidden. It was also forbidden to
wear the colors of the flag on your clothing.
The red, white, and blue Norwegian flag became an even stronger symbol for Norway on
Liberation Day, May 8th, 1945, when the World War II German occupation ended.
Norwegians eat between five and 10 times as much ice cream on the
17th of May than on any other day of
the year. It’s the day that kids—and adults— can eat as much ice cream as they want—enjoy!
Hipp hipp hurra for Syttende Mai!
Test your knowledge!
17. mai fun facts quiz for small readers (True
The 17th of May is the Norwegian
Red, white, and blue are the colors
of the flag.
Only a few children march in
Syttende Mai parades.
Many children play in school bands.
Bunad is the name for a Norwegian
Dancing and singing are forbidden
on the 17th of May.
Kids can eat all the ice cream they
want on Syttende Mai.
17. mai fun facts quiz for bigger readers (True
Norway’s Constitution was signed in
Eidsvoll in 1776.
Henrik Wergeland was the first
prime minister of Norway.
The first 17th of May children’s
parade was only for boys.
The Norwegian royal family always
marched in the 17th of May parade.
School bands are a major part of
17th of May celebrations.
Norwegians have always worn bunads
on Syttende Mai.
Hulda Garborg forbade people to
wear Panama hats with their folk costumes.
Children have dressed up in folk
costumes to dance in leikarringar since the 1920s.
During the World War II Occupation
by the Germans, Norwegians marched in parades on the 17th of May in protest.
Children are only allowed to eat red, white, and blue ice cream on Syttende Mai.
Answers will be available shortly
This article is written by Lori Ann Reinhall.
This article was first published by The Norwegian American