The seventeenth of May is the equivalent of Independence Day in Norway. The country has been in the news recently because of the trial of Anders Breivik, the mass murderer who shot up a youth camp. But on the eve of Syttende Mai, there are other things I would like to remember about my ancestral home.
I was lucky enough to be in Oslo for the marriage of Crown Prince Haakon to his commoner bride, Mette-Marit, in the summer of 2001. Having a royal family at all is something of a statement for Norway, because the country has only had its own royals since attaining independence from Sweden in 1905. Before that, they shared both royalty and government with Sweden and/or Denmark for over five hundred years.
Nowadays, the royal family lives in a palace in the heart of Oslo, set in parkland that is open to the public. Before the wedding, I strolled right up to the front of the palace to join a crowd standing respectfully well back from the facade. Security officers from the Royal Guard strolled back and forth, but the mood was relaxed, almost intimate.
Later, I found a spot in the square opposite the main cathedral to watch the ceremony on a giant screen. Here, security was very much in evidence — not surprising given how many members of the European royalty were present. Yet the officers were friendly with the crowd, joining in the camaraderie I felt all around me. I was clutching a Norwegian flag and a souvenir flag bearing the happy couple’s faces; so was everyone else.
When the time came during the ceremony for the couple to say their “I do’s” — or rather, the Norwegian equivalent, which is just “ja” or “yes” — we heard the Crown Prince’s firm voice in response to the priest’s question. His bride hesitated for just an instant before she smiled and said “Ja” in her turn. Outside the cathedral, a square full of people roared an echo: “Ja!” In that moment, I too was Norwegian.
Of course, all that was before 9/11 and the bombings in the London Tube and the rampage in the youth camp. Perhaps my memories are from a lost time of innocence, even for Norway. But I can’t imagine the country has changed that much. The experiences I had during the royal wedding too closely reflect the ones I had while I was simply travelling around the countryside. It’s not a perfect place, but it is one worth celebrating.
Happy Seventeenth of May, Norway!
If you liked this post, you might enjoy the one I wrote about my grandmother.
What do you associate with Norway? Have you been to a place that’s very different from media perceptions of it? What about a place you remember differently from the way it is now?