Happy Syttende Mai, May 17, Norwegian Constitution Day, everyone!

I’ve been fortunate to travel to beautiful Norway seven times to visit family there. One of the most special trips was in 2013 when Jeff and I celebrated Syttende Mai, May 17, Norwegian Constitution Day.

Children marching from school Skien Norwegian Constitution Day

My cousin Vibeke and her husband Reidulf specifically invited us to their home for May 17 so we could celebrate in Skien, my dad’s hometown. So off we went to Norway for a week, during our five months in Europe.

I’ve shared a bit more about the history of Norwegian Constitution Day at the bottom of this post. I had forgotten how interesting it is!

It’s all about the children

Syttende Mai is all about the children, and one of the main celebrations is the children’s parade. All dressed up in their traditional costumes (bunads), the children line up by the school and march grade by grade through the town. Hundreds of other townspeople and visitors follow them throughout the town. This is the school my father attended, so I can just imagine him as a six-year-old marching proudly through town waving his Norwegian flag.

Little children marchingfrom-school-in-Skien-Norwegian Constitution Day

Of course, the Nazis occupied Norway in April the year he was seven (1940). The Nazis banned parades and celebrations until the end of the war in 1945.

The parade brings everyone through town,

Parade in Skien Norwegian Constitution Day

then up to the hill above Skien with a beautiful view over the town. The hill showcases an open-air folk museum with many sod-roofed houses.

After the parade and a beer atop the hill, Vibeke, Reidulf, Jeff and I walked down to the ship MS Victoria and had a wonderful lunch. Vibeke hand made both of their bunads.

My cousins Vibeke and Reidulf at lunch on MS Victoria Norwegian Constitution Day

During my parents’ and my trip to Norway when I was eight, we took the relaxing daylong trip on the MS Victoria from Skien to Dalen on the 105km long Telemark Canal. So our 2013 lunch brought back wonderful memories!

Below, my mom and me on MS Victoria.

Above on the left – me in a little red coat. Above on the right – several of the many locks one goes through when taking the MS Victoria from Skien to Dalen.

A cute story about my cousin Vibeke and me. She’s a few years older than I am, and about six inches shorter. Because she’s the older Vibeke, she’s “Store Vibeke” (Big Vibeke), and I’m “Lille Vibeke” (Little Vibeke).

Vibeke Vibeke and Jeff on the MS Victoria Norwegian Constitution Day

That evening, Vibeke made a wonderful shrimp meal and had friends and us over for dinner.

Jeff and I always so enjoy seeing and staying with my cousins on our trips to Norway. We’re looking forward to our next trip there, whenever that may be.

An abbreviated history of Norwegian Constitution Day

In 1814, the union of Denmark-Norway was on the losing side of the Napoleonic Wars. As a result, in January of that year, Denmark gave Norway to Sweden. Not wanting to be in the union with Sweden, Norway created a Norwegian Constituent Assembly and on May 17, 1814, signed the Norwegian Constitution declaring Norway to be an independent kingdom, and selected a king. But the Swedish crown prince (Karl Johan – more about him below) rejected the idea of Norwegian independence, and attacked Norway in June 1814.

Norway fought back. And the chosen Norwegian king suggested that if Norway could be an equal in the union, he would leave the country, and Swedish king could reign over both countries. The fighting stopped in August 1814. The two countries agreed to terms in which Norway became an equal partner in a union of two independent states, with its own parliament and its own Constitution.

This was the last war between Norway and Sweden, and also Sweden’s final war. Because Sweden hasn’t been putting much money into military for the last 200 years, it has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world, concentrating its wealth on social good.

Karl Johan

In 1810 the Swedish parliament elected a new crown prince, Karl Johan, to take the throne when the childless King Charles XIII died.

(Karl Johan was a Frenchman. His original name was Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and he was one of Napoleon’s foremost generals. Bernadotte changed his name to Karl Johan to sound more Swedish, but my understanding is that he never learned to speak Swedish.) He became King of Sweden and Norway when Charles XIII died in 1818. The Frenchman’s heirs still sit on Sweden’s throne in the House of Bernadotte.

Karl Johan banned Syttende Mai celebrations in Norway in 1828, believing that the celebrations were a revolt against the Union. On May 17, 1829, against the King’s orders, Norwegians celebrated Constitution Day in Oslo (then called Christiania). The Swedish governor pitted cavalry against the Norwegians, creating gargantuan tensions between the Norwegians and the Swedes for the following year.

To diffuse the tensions, Karl Johan again permitted Norwegians to celebrate Syttende Mai.

The union between Norway and Sweden was peacefully dissolved in 1905.

So I spoke about Sweden’s wealth earlier, but now let’s talk about Norway’s amazing wealth….

And then, of course, massive oil reserves were discovered off Norway’s coast, the North Sea, in 1969. So now Norway is absolutely one of the most wealthy countries in the world, not only because of its oil, but how and why the country has invested this wealth. It doesn’t go to wealthy billionaires. It is reserved for the good of the people.

Norway’s massive oil wealth, and they’re investing it for the people and the future

The article I pull the following from was published almost a year ago, and the world has changed – including falling oil prices. But Norway has done an amazing job investing its wealth for future generations, and will withstand falling oil prices.


Because the Norwegian government has a huge interest in this wealth, it decided to invest this wealth in the future, for future generations of Norwegians. It’s a fund called Government Pension Fund Global, to meet the needs of its aging populations (which means, no older person has to ever, ever worry about where to live or their healthcare in their later years) and also to boost its economy in times of uncertainty.

The fund is worth more than US $1trillion, and it’s for the people. It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

The article shares a fascinating comparison between how Norway invested its North Sea oil funds, and how the UK squandered its North Sea oil funds by putting the money into reducing non-oil taxes. Now the UK has little of that money left. Unlike little Norway.

My understanding is that Norway’s oil reserves are half owned by corporations, and half owned by the government, so the government can effectively invest these massive oil funds. Compare that to the US, where resources like this are owned solely by corporations, for the corporations’ and their stockholders own good. Not for the good of the people.

It’s an excellent article. Congratulations, Norway, and I’m very proud to be Norwegian.




1 Comment