We have the luxury in Crave of picking and choosing our entertainments at will. So this time it is not a film, a recorded or live piece of music, or stand up comedy on the agenda. If you heard our most recent podcast, you’ll know I’ve been travelling in Norway. And on May 17th, in the city of Tromso, I witnessed the country’s Constitution Day celebration, marking the signing of its independence document in 1814.
Tromso is a city of 75,000, situated some 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The main settlement sits on an island in the middle of fjords, flanked, even in mid spring, by snow on its mountains. If the wind is up and from the north, it still has an icy edge. Although we are here still several weeks before mid summer, there is almost no night. Driving about, we see reindeer here and there. Traffic stops to let them cross the road. Welcome to the Arctic!
First and foremost, May 17th is marked by parades. A wave of them in the late morning, when school kids file through the streets, singing and chanting and waving the national flag.
The parade is peppered with brass bands. Those in the parade call out “hoo-rah”, and those watching on the sidewalks call “hoo-rah” back. The mood is happy and warm, even joyous. And the marchers are adorned in all manner of costume. Traditional Norwegian dress is everywhere, in all its variety. The costumes reflect the wearer’s regional origins. And there is another set of costume for those of the indigenous Sami community.
The second big parade is later. This time community groups and sports clubs are out – football players and kickboxers, gymnasts and firefighters, theatrical groups and ambulance officers. The march is long and loud, and again infused with a positive celebratory energy.
Watching with some Australian friends, we agreed that we Anzacs have little like this. Anzac Day itself is increasingly a day of national unity, but also of remembrance, not the carefree happy occasion it is here. Waitangi Day has elements of what we see here, but other elements too. Of course each country marks important history in its own way, taking into account its own culture and national character. Doubtless Norwegian society has as many internal pressures as any other, but it was refreshing to see a different take on a national day. I hope the photos convey some of the mood!