To most people the 17th of May is just like any other day, but not so for Norwegians.
Syttende mai is to Norway what the 4th of July is to the U.S. Norway as a modern, independent country, was established in 1905 (having won their independence from Sweden). Of course, Norway as a cultural and social grouping goes back to about the 5th century, a turbulent history of infighting, the rise of national kings, the influence of the Danes, and the realities of geography that engendered both local "kingdoms" and the urge to go i viking. So, the winning of their independence again in 1905 is a significant matter for Norwegians - but it is also necessarily laced with regional pride in the form of local folk dress, or bunad. (A brief, if somewhat old, history of syttende mai can be found here).
17th May, or syttende mai as it’s known in Norwegian, is one BIG party. Flags are raised everywhere. Celebratory breakfasts kick off at 6am with smoked salmon, herring, prawns, spekemat (cured lamb), delicious bread, cheese, cake (lots of cake) and of course, beer and aquavit. And champagne if you’re feeling flush. There is much singing of song, especially once the aquavit’s been passed around. The bulk of the celebration consists of a parade of schoolchildren, musicians, and public officials, followed by a late lunch and then free concerts.The parade route ends up down by the havn where the kids are retrieved by their parents to go to lunch. Parties then continue throughout the day and night.
Nearly everyone is wearing their bunad to the parade and festivities.
"Bunad is an old Norse word which simply means clothing. Today it also means 'national costume'. Almost every Norwegian woman (and a growing number of men) has a bunad, often passed down from mother to daughter or granddaughter. Related children inherit from each other when they grow up. It is also possible to buy new ones finished, or buy materials and make your own, often supervised.
There are two main types of bunads:
- Bunads which have been in continous use.
- Bunads reconstructed from old clothes
"Your bunad shows what part of Norway you identify yourself with. There are hundreds of different bunads, each district, valley or town has its own, some in several varieties (colours). There has been a lot of development over the past 100 years, and still bunads change with better research, and new one are constructed.
"The fashion of bunads started at the beginning of the 20th century, when Norway was in a very national romantic time, just becoming a country with its own king again after being in union with Sweden for almost 100 years, and Denmark before that. The interest for the old and rural was strong, traditional folk dancing was in fashion, and the dancers needed costumes, and so, suitable old clothing was found, changed to fit the fashion of the time , and the bunad was "invented".
"The age of the source material dates back to the 1700s at the earliest in most cases, but one has to remember that Norway was a very isolated country with its tough geography, and there were many secluded places where people in the 1800s wore clothes had not changed much since the renaissanse or even the viking age. "