17 fun facts about the 17th of May

17th of May Oslo Royal PalaceBarnetoget parades past the Royal Palace in Oslo. Photo: Morten Johnsen / Wikimedia

17 fun facts about the 17th of May

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 holiday.

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.”

For 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 September 1901.

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.

17th May

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, or leikarringar.

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 Rikard Nordraak.

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 or False):

  1. The 17th of May is the Norwegian national holiday.
  2. Red, white, and blue are the colors of the flag.
  3. Only a few children march in Syttende Mai parades.
  4. Many children play in school bands.
  5. Bunad is the name for a Norwegian folk costume.
  6. Dancing and singing are forbidden on the 17th of May.
  7. Kids can eat all the ice cream they want on Syttende Mai.

17. mai fun facts quiz for bigger readers ( True or False ):

  1. Norway’s Constitution was signed in Eidsvoll in 1776.
  2. Henrik Wergeland was the first prime minister of Norway.
  3. The first 17th of May children’s parade was only for boys.
  4. The Norwegian royal family always marched in the 17th of May parade.
  5. School bands are a major part of 17th of May celebrations.
  6. Norwegians have always worn bunads on Syttende Mai.
  7. Hulda Garborg forbade people to wear Panama hats with their folk costumes.
  8. Children have dressed up in folk costumes to dance in leikarringar since the 1920s.
  9. During the World War II Occupation by the Germans, Norwegians marched in parades on the 17th of May in protest.
  10. 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


© The Norwegian American / #Norway Today
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1 Comment on "17 fun facts about the 17th of May"

  1. Nyla Carson | 18. May 2019 at 22:23 |

    Great info . Thanks for posting. Nyla

Comments are closed.