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Celebrating the Norwegian constitution

May 17th

May 17th is Constitution Day in Norway. Albeit everyone agrees that the day is to be celebrated with parades, flags and speeches, the country is fairly split about the details. Some like their sour cream porridge with sugar and cinnamon only, while others insist on having a dash of butter on it, sugar is optional and yet others prefer a hot dog.

Being a day to celebrate the constitution, which was signed during the power vaccuum between the fall of Napoleon and Norway being handed over to Sweden, gave birth to the independent kingdom of Norway. The king was imported from Denmark to secure royal blood, which means the King was Norway's first official immigrant.

The conflict

Fast forward 2013 and the 199th celebration of the Norwegian Constitution. The details are still being decided by local comitees, making it an incredibly democratic and diverse celebration. In the city of Ålesund, a school celebrates its 90th year, and want to show off the diverse roots of its students. They have already made paper flags showing the Norwegian flag on one side and their country of origin on the other side. They as the local committee if these flags may be used as an additional prop during this year's parade. The committee allows this.

From this, it doesn't take long before a right wing online paper puts up the headline "Children will be denied waving the Norwegian flag on May 17th". And representatives of anti-immigration political parties make a big deal out of the idea that "we are celebrating Norway, not the UN!" and "Celebrating with any other flag than the Norwegian flag is an incidence of misunderstood multiculturalism."


One of the things the constitution secures is local democracy. As such, any attempts to overturn the decisions made locally on something as little as this is an insult to the same constitution that is to be celebrated. I am not and advocate of suspending democracy in order to celebrate democracy.

How Ålesund decides to celebrate the constitution is completely their own thing. I may have opinions about it, but it is their celebration, and I am more than happy to let them make their own decisions.


For my own part, I recall the years I celebrated national days in other countries. In the US, I felt the strong patriotism from the Americans around me, this was a celebration of the USA, it was about how it was the best country in the world. As an alien, I did not really feel welcome. I could really feel my status, not only as a guest, but as a guest whose presence was completely irrelevant. Largely, I ended up staying at home or away from people on 4th of July.

Canada was a great contrast to this. More strangers than usual spoke to me. Everyone were happy. The concept was "come, let's celebrate Canada's birthday. I don't care who you are, let's just celebrate and be happy!" I always felt welcome on 1st of July. It made me very happy about being in Canada. It made me feel proud to be a Canadian, even though I very well knew that I was not.

For "my own country", I would much rather have "guests" experience the inclusion I experienced in Canada. Did I see other flags in Canada than the Canadian? Hell yes!

The alternative

The Norwegian flag of 1814 - and it is May 17th 1814 we are celebrating, right? Looked quite different. We should possibly pull these out of our great grand parents' closets. That said, we are not even celebrating the flag or the nation as such. The day is called "constitution day" and it is the constitution we celebrate.

I therefore suggest that we all print our own copy of the consitution and celebrate by bringing it with us in the parade, where we can discuss the terminology, legal implications and loopholes. Another idea is to have fleets that visualize the various paragraphs in the constitution. We could have concerts where the constitution is used as the lyrics. There are so many constitution-things we could do.

In the end, I can only quote Bill and Ted: Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes!