17 May – Hip hip hooray!

For a secular country, Norway observes many religious holidays (and by “observe”, I mean get days off work). Spring is full of holidays – religious and otherwise, including 1 May (international labour day), Ascension Day and Whit Monday. But the most important of all is 17 May.

17 May

Bigger than Christmas, New Year and your birthday, it’s Syttende mai – Constitution day. Everyone dresses up – most wear a bunad (national costume), and there are parades through every city, town and tiny outpost. Nothing military about the parades; Syttende mai is for children. School by school, children march, sing, wave flags and shout hip hip hooray!

Anywhere two or more Norwegians are gathered, Syttende mai is celebrated: In London and Dubai, in Australia and New Zealand, from Vancouver to Montreal, in several US cities, including New York, Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego and in Texas, Louisiana, Alaska and of course in Minnesota. Many foreign cities have had elaborate celebrations since the 1800s.

Neither rain, snow nor freezing hail storms can stop the Syttende mai celebrations. Up here, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes. On Syttende mai, no one is deterred; everyone is out.

The Oslo parade makes a short stop at the Royal Palace, where King Harald, Queen Sonja and their children stand on the balcony for hours, waving and smiling to everyone. Lively, yet peaceful; not a weapon in sight.

17 May and the russ

Livelier still are the russ – the high school graduates. They wear red overalls and red hats with tassels, whistles and wooden whips, and hand out their mock (naughty) business cards.

May 17th 2007

The overalls have likely been worn for 2 – 3 weeks and not been washed (if you’re caught washing your overalls, you have to cut off a trouser leg). Also, chances are the russ are pretty drunk – from beer and lack of sleep. The period between 1 May – 17 May is called the russetid. For most, it’s one long period of debauchery; a continuous party with sex, beer and rock’n’roll.

During the russetid, you collect souvenirs – “knots” in the tassel of your hat – according to mad little challenges you undertake. The traditional ones, first introduced in the 1940s, were relatively innocent. For each night spent awake, you got to tie a knot in your tassel. A reprimand by a police officer gave you the right to tie a match in your tassel and if you kissed the police officer, you earned a seigmann (man-shaped, sugar-coated jelly sweet). Drinking 24 bottles of beer in 24 hours gave you a bottle cap. All sweet and innocent like.

Over time, the challenges have become ever more creative, irreverent and controversial. If you’re the sober type, you can earn:

  • a button – for participating in the annual russ humanitarian activities
  • a lollipop – for handing out your cards to children in hospitals (kids love collecting these cards)
  • a piece of bread – for wearing bread as shoes for an entire day

Geir Halvorsen

For the rest, well, I’ll keep it relatively civilised, but if you’re easily offended, you may want to stop reading here. If not, well, here are a few of the 100 official knots for Oslo’s russ in 2011:

You’ve earned the right to wear in your tassel:

  • a ruler – for spending an entire class period underneath your desk
  • a Monopoly note – for pole dancing on a bus, tram or metro for at least 5 minutes
  • a chapstick – for making out with at least 10 people AND get their autograph and phone number
  • a pine cone – for having sex with a fellow russ outdoors
  • a wine cork – for drinking a bottle of wine in 40 minutes
  • a small flower – for teaching sex education to freshies (10th graders), physically demonstrating the motions
  • a pornographic picture – for answering every question from the teacher by reading from a porn mag
  • a g-string – for running through the teacher’s lounge in your undies
  • a plastic spoon – for sneaking into the bedroom of a friend’s mum or dad, get into their bed, wake them up and say thanks for last night

Yeah. It only gets worse, so I think I’ll stop here, folks.

This is an excerpt – updated – of this article on Boots’n’All.

25 Responses to “17 May – Hip hip hooray!”

  1. RyukyuMike 16 May 2011 0253 #

    This sounds like a blast. Wish I could be there ! Great photos, too.

  2. Andrea 16 May 2011 0357 #

    Wow – naughty indeed. Sounds like a good time – wonder what the origin of the knots is (as in who made them up)! Never heard of this before!
    Andrea recently posted..How to Attend a Black Tie Event While Backpacking

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 May 2011 1056 #

      Andrea – this has been going on since the 1940s at least. I think it’s a type of ritual for passing into adulthood; all about breaking rules and norms. Only the nature of the knot challenges change over time. 30 years ago, running naked through school or town would have been very provocative. Today, much less so.

  3. Jason 16 May 2011 0532 #

    Sounds like a big party! I’ll have to time my first visit around May 17th!
    Jason recently posted..Lunch In Uyuni- Bolivia

  4. Alouise 16 May 2011 0810 #

    I love hearing about various holidays from other countries. This sounds like a lot fun.
    Alouise recently posted..I’m Different When I Travel

  5. Christian 16 May 2011 1058 #

    Is that a condom in her hair???

    I love being in Norway on 17 May. Our national day celebrations in Denmark is nothing like that. We’re so jealous and so are the Swedes.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 May 2011 1128 #

      @Christian – Haha, yes it is.
      I know – you guys are so jealous. Will you be here tomorrow?

  6. Randy 16 May 2011 2338 #

    Sign me up! This looks like a great time. Nice work on the write up.

  7. Petter 17 May 2011 0834 #

    Hurra for 17. mai!!!!!! Hurra, hurra, hurra!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 May 2011 0844 #

      @Petter: Normally, I only allow comments in English here, but I’ll make an exception this time :)

  8. robin 17 May 2011 0923 #

    Can’t believe I never heard about this. Norway next year then…
    robin recently posted..Cielo

  9. Italian Notes 17 May 2011 1203 #

    Congratulations ( – though I miss some Bunad photos;)
    Italian Notes recently posted..Spezzatino di manzo con patate e alloro

  10. This is so weird. If I visit Norway, this is when I want to go.
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..I see dead people in Los Angeles

  11. The Travel Chica 17 May 2011 1533 #

    I love holidays where everyone dresses up!
    The Travel Chica recently posted..Being a Nerd in Buenos Aires

  12. Renee 17 May 2011 1600 #

    How fun….I’d never heard of this holiday…..I don’t that I’d have many things in my tassel though…..
    Renee recently posted..Discovering Smith-Gilbert Gardens in Kennesaw- Georgia

  13. A Lady in London 17 May 2011 1715 #

    Wow, sounds like a great celebration! I love all of the tradition behind it!
    A Lady in London recently posted..Lady in Cyprus

  14. Jeremy Branham 17 May 2011 1745 #

    When I first started reading, I was excited about this! Great to see Norwegians celebrate their holiday! As I got to the end, I realized that beyond the parade and pageantry, it goes downhill rather quickly! Personally speaking, I think it is sad that high school kids resort to this type of behavior and that it is widely encouraged.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Budget travel deals of the week May 17 – summer- Memorial Day vacations

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 May 2011 0120 #

      @Jeremy – Yes, I see how their behaviour can seem a bit outrageous. It’s really just kids being rebellious and having some fun for a few weeks, though.

  15. This sounds like one crazy celebration! Puts our 4th of July celebrations to shame :) I’ve never worn bread for shoes but that one I would do!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Baroque- The Emotional Style

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 18 May 2011 0116 #

      @Debbie – :)

  16. Ha, this sounds like one of the most entertaining holidays ever! Why don’t we do this in the U.S.?!? :P
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..The Pros and Cons of Living in an RV

  17. adventureswithben 18 May 2011 0422 #

    I just happened to be in the Norwegian Pavilion today at Epcot and there was a big party and I didn’t know why. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Turkey's For Life 20 May 2011 1056 #

    And all of a sudden, Norway has changed in my mind from lush greenery, lakes and mountains, to crazy party country. Loved this post. I’m not sure how many knots I would have achieved if I was taking part in russetid – I don’t think I even want to think about it. :)
    Turkey’s For Life recently posted..Commemoration of Atatürk and Youth &amp Sport Day

  19. Monique 20 May 2011 1153 #

    I was wondering why so many people where wearing those overalls when my family and I were in Oslo last weekend. Now I know. Hip-hip hooray!!
    Monique recently posted..Vigeland Sculpture Park

  20. Marie 25 May 2011 0147 #

    Hey! My Norwegian friend has never told me about this. Next year I am going to show up at the pub with a red hat just to see what she does.
    Marie recently posted..Report from the Antipodes

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