Sex, Booze and Patriotism: Norwegian Constitution Day

NO Constitution intext 1The above title is slightly misleading. Norway’s national day is not all about sex, booze and patriotism. It’s about booze and patriotism; the sex is just a natural consequence. It’s celebrated on the 17th of May, and is by Norwegians simply referred to as syttende mai (seventeenth of May), possibly so that we, despite the many alcohol units consumed this day, still remember what date it is. Norwegians make a big fuss about their national day. On syttende mai we celebrate that some assembly of dudes finally agreed upon a constitution 200 years ago, declaring Norway an independent nation. On this day we put all Nordic modesty aside, love the guts out of ourselves and occasionally make love to fellow countrymen.

Early birds

NO Constitution intext 2The celebration usually starts with a champagne breakfast in good company. Getting up early is not something we generally enjoy, but it’s doable when there’s champagne involved. After this, one might have a look at one of the many parades of flag-carrying patriotic song-singing kids. If you’re in Oslo, you can even wave to the royal family, who is stuck on their balcony the entire day for this purpose only. The rest of the day and night is usually filled with utepils (the Norwegian term for having beer in the sun), cakes, ice cream, pølse i lompe (sausage in a Norwegian type of potato cake), more utepils and usually some form of booze.

A hard knock life

Many Norwegians are annoyed that the day after syttende mai is not a day off, simply because it’s uncomfortable to work with a hangover. The fact that we have to moderate our alcohol intake on such a special occasion is found to be utterly outrageous. It has even been suggested to make one of the useless Christianity-based public holidays into a working day, in exchange for the 18th. The only thing most secular Norwegians associate with e.g. Maundy Thursday anyway is “closed shops” and “no alcohol sale”. By all means, this is dramatic enough to Norwegians, but the holiness of such public holidays has definitely faded.

Bring a change of clothing

NO Constitution intext 3Despite having to work the day after, most Norwegians get pretty drunk on constitution day. We don’t really aim at getting shit-faced, but when you start drinking at 9 AM and keep drinking throughout the day, this sometimes magically happens. The 18th of May has to be the least efficient working day of the entire year. I once had an exam on this day, which completely sabotaged my celebration. It did, however, give me insight into an interesting post-syttende mai phenomenon. Relevant to this anecdote is the national costume, the bunad. Bunads are traditional costumes that are worn only on very special occasions, such as weddings, baptisms and, of course, syttende mai. On the morning of my exam, I was waiting for the tram to university. Then, as subtle as a whiff of poo in a laundromat, an obviously hung over, messy-haired, bunad-wearing girl passed me on the street, with an unmistakable grin on her face: Epic. Walk. Of. Shame. What I learned from this experience is that, if you plan on going home with someone on Norwegian Constitution Day, bring a non-National Romantic change of clothing.


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