Victoria plum blossom.

A Norwegian won the Eurovision Song Contest held last night in Moscow, and the seventeenth of May is a good day to celebrate it, it’s the Norwegian national day.  The seventeenth commemorates the signing of the Norwegian Constitution at Eidsvoll, in 1814.  Although independence was not proclaimed it’s a similar event to the fourth of July in the United States.  It’s not (as I had thought) like the Cinco de Mayo, which is famous in Mexico for something completely different, I now see.

I must admit that before I moved here I knew nothing of Norwegian history and my knowledge is still vague so, here — gleaned from Wiki — is a very short summary of what happened.  The 1814 Constitution is like the one the United States drafted forty-odd years earlier, with the significant difference that Norway has a monarch chosen by the people (represented by parliament).  Having no divine right to rule the monarch is not an absolute ruler; although it’s hereditary, not an elected position, she or he rules at the sufferance of the people.  There was a catch to this in 1814; the first monarch they were obliged to “choose” was Swedish and that’s because of when it happened.  I remember 1814 for Napoleon’s banishment to the island of Elba after his Russian campaign had failed, but it turns out to have also been the year in which Norway was ceded by Denmark, Napoleon’s half-hearted ally, to Sweden.  In keeping with the Zeitgeist, the French and American revolutions, most Norwegians wanted independence; and after winning a small war with the Swedes, they got it.  Well, sort of: the Norwegian parliament voted to form a union with Sweden in which Swedish troops were barred from Norwegian territory, but Norway was a junior partner represented abroad by Swedes.  This state of affairs continued until 1905, when Norway became fully independent and a Danish prince and his British wife, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, were invited to become proper constitutional Norwegian monarchs: Kong Haakon and Dronning Maud.

The seventeenth of May is celebrated by families grilling sausages outdoors, but that begins later; the big event starting in the early morning is the parade of schoolchildren.  In Oslo they march past the royal family.  Their majesties — Queen Sonia dressed in national costume and King Harald in top hat and tails — wave from the palace balcony.  Then they’re flown to other parts of the country to continue waving.  I think they may wave for the rest of the day, and it doesn’t get dark until around eleven at night.  The Queen, along with many women and a few men wear a form of national dress called the bunad.  It’s a 19th Century idea, a product of the national romanticism that still embodies national identity for most Norwegians.  The outfits have regional differences, so, although to me they all look stylistically similar, they do vary in colour and design from county to county.  This one is from around Kongsberg and was sewn for herself by my daughter’s grandmother:

Alma bunad back

alm @ gate