Saturday, May 19, 2012

17. mai

On May 17th, we celebrated Norway's "National Day" (or "Constitution Day"), usually referred to as syttende mai (translation: 17th of May).  We started the day early, by heading to Mass (it was also Ascension Thursday), then met up with some friends afterwards and spent the morning walking around the city center.  We knew the National Day was going to be a very big deal here.  We saw flags coming out everywhere starting at the beginning of May.  The bus routes were totally upended to accommodate the activity downtown.  And, I was a bit shocked to see some of the neighbors out into the wee hours of the night on the 16th preparing their gardens and trimming their shrubs.

Norwegians heading into the city to celebrate
But had no idea just how big it was until we saw the throngs of people converging on the city, early on a rainy morning, dressed in their finest clothes.  The most immediate difference between the 17 of May and our 4th of July is the way that enthusiasm for the day is expressed.  Everyone was wearing something classy (except us, of course, and the graduating seniors, who wore their overalls and caps).  Many were dressed in suits and gowns, but most seemed to be wearing bunads, Norwegian folk costumes.  The various designs and styles represent the specific communities with which the costumes are associated.

Jessie and Benji modeling their bunads
In the city, almost all businesses were closed, but small booths selling hot dogs, ice cream, cotton candy, coffee, and sundry treats had sprung up like a ring of mushrooms around heart of the city, feeding the festive mood of the morning.  Eventually, the parade began and people started marching through the street representing various organizations, ranging from silly to serious.
The prisons in Norway are much more relaxed than back home. 
(Actually, they are, but these are just some people marching in the parade.)
Norwegians are very athletic, even on holidays. 
(Actually, they are, but these were also just some people marching in the parade and doing aerobics).

Some of the more serious parade participants

An interesting highlight, and something specific to Bergen, is the buekorps (trans: "bow corps").  Over the past month, we have been seeing groups of kids in uniforms carrying wooden crossbows and marching to drums.  After talking with some friends here, I learned that the buekorps are part of a folk tradition in Bergen that stretches back at least 170 years.  The first buekorps were organized by boys (now they are co-ed) in Bergen and based on military exercises that they had imitated, and membership was based largely on neighborhood.  These units would train, elect leaders, plan missions against rival units, and wage "war" in the city.  While I am not entirely certain of the history and level of conflict, my understanding is that by the 1850s (perhaps, in parallel to the growing nationalism of the times), these organizations had shifted their responsibilities and migrated into more communitarian endeavors like service and "civil defense." Today, they remain autonomous, youth-run organizations, though they are largely focused on sport and social activities.  (I think this is one of the most interesting things I have noticed about Norway: Children are encouraged to develop leadership skills and a sense of responsibility.  This attitude of encouragement is matched with commitment and investment by the older generations.)  

A beukorps group preparing for the march.
After we watched the parade in the city center, we headed over to have lunch with our friends Scott, Jill, Aurora, Benji, and Jessie.  In addition to the pleasant company of our hosts and their guests, we had a nice meal (which included the traditional rømmegrøt, a thick porridge made from sour cream and served with butter, sugar, and cinnamon) and then walked with them to their neighborhood parade. 

Oscar and Jonah in the sack race...
Even in his sleep, Sergio celebrates.
Another interesting aspect of Norway's National Day was the experience of the neighborhood parade, which are organized by school district and which focus on the youth.  The parades snake through the local school district and end up at the school house, where there are games, snacks (hot dogs, coffee, cakes, ice cream, etc.), speeches about civic values, and student performances.  Sergio fell asleep by the time we reached the end of the parade route (he needed it), but Jonah and Oscar were awake to participate in sack races, tug-o-war, and tricycle races.  My favorite activity (and one which Oscar and Jonah liked) was hammering a nail into a board.

Gratulerer med dagen! (literally, "Congratulations with the day!"; used for birthdays and for May 17th)

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