Yes, We Love This Land
I waved at the King and the Royal family. I smiled for the NRK cameras. And I kept reminding myself that I was here to supervise and chaperon. After all, this was a children’s parade.
Norwegian Constitution Day is a big deal, and rightly so. Syttende Mai (17th of May) is a celebration of Norway’s constitutional independence, never mind that full sovereignty didn’t come for almost 90 years – that’s another story. 17 Mai not only commemorates a significant event in the people of Norway as a political entity but also marks the passing of winter to summer, snow to blooms, and school to holiday. May in Norway is special.
My children’s school marched in the big parade on Karl Johans gate. Their school was one of over 100. The parade had a record attendance of over 60,000 children. That is an accomplishment in our modern era of fear.
The day started earlier than I anticipated, 4:32 if I recall. The rays of daylight streaming into the bedroom didn’t wake me but the Boom-Boom-Boom of a stereo did. Ah, the last day of Russ. Live it up while you can, I guess.
The forecast was for a blessing of wonderful weather. In mid-May, the weather in Oslo can range from windy storms with sleet to sunshine and warm weather. Odin treated us to the latter.
At 8 AM was the flag raising ceremony at the school with the our music korps, every proper school has a music korps. The children worked their way through a couple verses of, “Ja, Vi Elsker,” and another tune as the flag rose. Then they marched off. “Oh, they’re done,” I thought. Wrong. They wound their way through our extended apartment complex residential area, like pied pipers drawing people out of their homes to the all-school ceremony at 9.
So many people in Bunads, that really is a sight to see in person. I understand the allure and I empathise with the envious. But at the price of a nice used car, I will settle with my old black suit.
The school ceremony commenced on time. There were songs from children’s choirs, speeches from the Rektor, speeches from three top students, and a multitude of parents snapping photos. And now off to the buses.
Did I mention this was a big deal? Please allow me to iterate, it was a big deal. Please think of the logistics of getting about 62,000 pupils, marching band equipment, and chaperones to Western Gateway Park in Des Moines so they can march in-turn up Locust Avenue to the State Capitol. Uff!
They dropped us off somewhere and then we had to walk, and stick together, to designated waiting spot. Our spot was near the Arbeidierpariet building. And then we waited.
Last year Lysejordet Skole was near the front. This year we were number 102 of 119 marching groups. We waited some more. The kiddos protested as much as you would expect, the teachers gave them license to do so. Thank God for shade, and to think how tough these kids are to do it in the rain.
After two hours of finding ways to entertain the boys and girls we moved. Well, then we stopped. And then we moved a little bit more and then we stopped again. You get the drill, the accordion of marchers needed space to smooth out.
At a party later that night I was asked by several people to compare Syttende Mai to July 4th. I stammered a lot when I tried to answer because I couldn’t. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different. But one way in which Syttende Mai differed importantly was the emphasis on the children, and I loved it.
The parades are children’s parades, organized through the local schools. The adults are there, dressed nicely, to support and cheer on the children, the future. In the parades there are no martial displays or floats advertising the great deals you can get at Bob’s RV Round-up. Refreshing.
We crested the highpoint of Karl Johan gate and saw the throngs to the west, marching towards the palace. Parliament was on the left, a grand hotel was on our right, and a current of flag-waving children held the attention of a city.
Up the red gravel to the castle, visible litter on the grounds let me know that many early watchers had left after their children passed. Karl Johan astride his horse was to our left, “A penny for your thoughts.”
Turning left, our group passed by the reviewing balcony of the royals. I was on the right so I got a good look. Waving for three hours is a tough job but then they could take the rest of the day off. I was satisfied.
To our left I spied Meghan and my Mother. Lysejordet marched on and out of the palace grounds. Now our pace quickened and the teachers were less vigilant in policing behavior or the quality of the lines. Rådhuset marched our journey’s end. I signed the boys out and then were were off to a lunch date.
We all had tired feet and sweaty shirts but no matter. We had marched together and celebrated a small country’s commitment to democracy and each other. And I for one was grateful.