May in Norway

I haven’t been able to write in a while because I am working a lot. Indeed, it’s May in Norway! The highest peak of the season for everyone involved in the services industry, and socially VERY active for Norwegians themselves.

First, let’s talk about the peak of the month: the 17th of May! It will be a whole article by itself so I won’t extend on it, but I can say that it’s a very important date because it’s their Constitution day, when they get to celebrate their young nation. It is the only day of the year when it’s socially acceptable to be super drunk before noon as people like to kick off the festivities with a champagne breakfast. Then they go to watch a local parade, which is quite big in Bergen and also the first one since 2019 because of COVID. I never got to experience that day because I’ve been a waitress all that time, pouring alcohol to people celebrating, but I don’t despair. One day, I’ll host my own champagne breakfast, let’s believe it!

From the local newspaper Bergens Tidende: the weather looks very good for the 17th of May, and that is very important to Norwegians too!

The 17th of May is also the culmination of a three weeks long very strange tradition from a foreign perspective, called « Russ ». It’s pretty much hundreds of 18/19 year-olds going all around, some with private vans and buses, to party, participate in games and festivals and other things. Let’s be honest, the purpose is mainly to get drunk. They wear overalls of color, the most frequent being red, then blue, and celebrate their achievements (finishing high school, I guess) intensely right before actually having their exams. Yeah, not smart! In Denmark for example, they have one day of Russ that is when they actually graduate, which makes way more sense. The Viking told me that the richer kids even pay to get a musician to make a song for their party van. In other words, the whole thing is pretty insane. It stirs debates every year, as the Russ are not known for respecting rules and cleaning after themselves. It can also get pretty agitated at night and things sometimes take an ugly turn. But hey, youth be youth!

From the local newspaper Bergens Tidende: Those pedagogical specialists are NOT having it!

Still on the youth, May is the month of the confirmations. Most of the kids aged 15 go through this Christian landmark in Norway, even despite a lack of faith as it’s more like a social ritual. It’s like entering adulthood, or a sweet sixteen for those familiar with the tradition. The C-day, the whole family goes to church to attend the ceremony itself and then goes for lunch, which involves singing compliments to the confirmant and sometimes pictures displays and games. Then, it’s cake time. But like, a ton of cakes! With lots of cream, blueberries (it’s Norway, after all), meringue, chocolate and flags. To me, it looks pretty stressful as the parents are under a tremendous amount of pressure for things to go smoothly. It looks to me as the peak of their life as a parent, but to the confirmant, it seems like a very boring time, keeping on being filled with soda and cake until it’s finally time to open the presents. I mean, money envelopes! They usually get silver jewelry, fancy watches and a ton, but like I mean A TON, of money. This is very useful to prepare for future life investments, or just for fun. History fact: being confirmed was actually mandated by law from 1736 to 1912!

During all those events, as well as weddings, it is quite the tradition to dress up. Most people go for the traditional bunad, heavy and colorful outfits reflecting the geographical origin of a person and generally garmented with silver jewelry. Colors, pattern, jewelry, everything matters! For Bergen, they like for example to add an umbrella brooch with silver rain drops, it’s quite pretty. It also looks deeply uncomfortable, and if the sun is in the party then you get to see those elegant people sweat like crazy. But tradition is tradition, and it’s hard to argue with a Norwegian on the point.

From Norway Today, a take on the royal family and bunads from East Telemark region

If all of the above wasn’t enough, Bergen hosts many festivals towards the end of the month as it’s a European city if culture, the main one being Festpillene, the Bergen International Festival. It’s like massive, events all over town, concerts, performances, theater, dance, music, art everywhere! The first one was held in 1953 and it’s been going strong ever since, with artists invited from many countries and thousands of volunteers helping out. Although the first version of the festival is attributed to Norwegian opera singer Fanny Elsta, the original idea came from the cherished pianist Edvard Grieg, famous for his music but also for putting Norwegian on the classical music scene of Europe.

From PixaBay.
The statue by Gustav Vigeland of the (very short!) national treasure that was Edvard Grieg in Bergen

May is therefore an exciting month for everyone here, foreigners and locals, either for work, social obligations or for fun. It has been a bit exhausting at work, but I’m generally very happy to see Bergen dynamic like this again, after two years of cancellations and restrictions. Fun is back, and that is awesome to see!

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