For more than 100 years, the Royal Family has greeted the Norwegian Constitution Day children’s parade in Oslo from the balcony of the Royal Palace. Today the terms ‘May 17th’ and ‘children’s parade’ are synonyms.
The very first celebration of May 17th is thought to have taken place in Trondheim in 1815, one year after the Constitution was drafted and adopted by the National Assembly at Eidsvoll. In 1836 Stortinget (the National Assembly) celebrated May 17th for the first time and this is considered to be the date on which May 17th officially became Constitution Day in Norway.
King Carl Johan, who ruled over Norway and Sweden from 1818 to 1844, regarded the May 17th celebrations – and Norway’s independent Constitution – as revolutionary acts and a provocation against Sweden. In 1828 he prohibited the celebration of Constitution Day. However, following his death in 1844, there was a change of strategy. In 1845, his successor, King Oscar I, attended the May 17th celebrations, and greeted the banner parade from the palatial estate, where the Royal Family stayed during visits to Christiania (Oslo).
Marking special days or festivals with celebrations involving parades with banners, music and singing was, and still is, common. In 1869, school headmaster Peter Qvam, is thought to have come up with the idea of the first children’s parade in Norway. Qvam was a close friend of the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who wrote the Norwegian National Anthem ‘Ja, vi elsker’.
The following year, in 1870, the first children’s parade marched through the streets and up to the Palace Square.
Only boys, 1.200 in all and most of them from Qvam’s School in Christiania, took part in the first children’s parade. It was not until 1889 that girls, pupils from Mrs Ragna Nielsen’s School, were allowed to join the parade. In 1902, Møllergata School was the first school to have its own banner.
It was King Haakon and Queen Maud who introduced the custom of greeting the children’s parade from the Palace balcony in 1906. The custom has been upheld ever since. The only exceptions were in 1910, when the Royal Family was in England for the funeral of Queen Maud’s father, King Edward VII, and during World War II from 1940 to1944.
By May 17th 1945, Crown Prince Olav had returned from London, where he had lived in exile during the war years. That year, he was at the Palace balcony to greet the 202.000 school children, who were once again allowed to celebrate the Constitution Day after five years of occupation.
Each year the Royal Family gathers to greet the children’s parade from the Palace balcony. For over 20 years, Norwegian Royal expert, Kjell-Arne Totland, has been conveying royal history, news and fashion comments from the Palace Square on May 17th.
‘It’s a great tradition, and completely unique to Norway, that the royal family greets the children’s parade from the palace balcony on the National Day. This is what most Norwegians associate with May 17th, even if they live far outside of Oslo’, he says.
Norwegian Broadcast airs the whole parade live with comments and celebration-reports from cities and villages throughout Norway.
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
Photos: On top: ANSA, below: TV2, on the bottom: unknown