No, it’s nothing like St.Patrick’s Day in Ireland the day after, or at least not how I fondly remember it. This country is fully functional again the day after National Day. There’s no bragging about the great night you had or how little sleep you are managing to function on as you pull yourself through the day.
The people with sore heads here the morning after National Day are most likely the final year high-school students who have basically been on a bender for the best part of a month as they celebrate the impending end of their school years. Yep, that’s a mad ingenious state-sanctioned dungaree-wearing Norwegian tradition called Russ. But even they are back to business-as-usual the day after – National Day on May 17th signals the bender end. The dungarees badly need a wash and life must return to normal.
We had a great day on National Day. The kids at our school, coming from Norway to Somalia to Pakistan to Bangladesh, belted out the fact that they loved this country, in the rain at 8 am, as the Norwegian flag was raised. The parents stood nearby, looking focused as they tried to recall the national anthem words that many of them never knew and probably like us, adamant that they will know at least 3 of the 7 verses for next time.
We took all tips to heart on the boy’s behalf before he went off to march in the big Oslo parade for the first time. He’ll be cold and he’ll be hungry, they said. So he had food in his pockets and his arms were at a 45 deg angle from his body, making sure that he had enough clothes on. We live and learn, all other kids had arms hanging normally it seems, much to his annoyance. The food was forgotten in the excitement but it was reassuring to know that he was well grounded in the event of a freak tornado, he’d have had little hope of outrunning it, mind you.
He had his 2006 little brick model of a Nokia with him for any emergencies. I got a call when he landed in town with his schoolmates before they had even joined the parade, he was far too warm to wave at the King and wouldn’t mind going home now. Maybe we overdid it. Chin up, son. Didn’t you know that parents are sent to challenge you sometimes….
Despite concerns, there was no trouble at all in the city that day. Police had obviously planned ahead just in case, there were 2 massive anti-riot trucks blocking Princes gate, one of the main traffic arteries in the city. We were fascinated by them, where did they come from, when do these things ever get used in this quiet peaceful country.
Watching the parade, I had the same sense as always, how powerful this day is from an ‘appreciation of Norway’ perspective and also an integration perspective. As of Jan 1st this year, there were circa 725,000* immigrants in Norway and a further 159,000 born here to foreign parents. Integration is a huge issue all over Europe, the general desire everywhere is that new arrivals need to learn the language, work and integrate as soon as possible. As a totally unconnected immigrant here, I think that the National Day celebration here is a massive win in furthering integration in one fell swoop, it never fails to move me to see kids from everywhere, with no real roots here, waving the Norwegian flag with pride. This means more to me than many others perhaps, given that we brought 2 kids here as outsiders and of course, more than anything, we want them to have a sense of belonging. I would probably have to go back to the Viking invasion of Ireland to track any roots I might have here so let’s just say, we have no solid connections on my side. And as for the German husband, there are no known Nordic roots either, except perhaps for the fact that he looks the part.
Most kids are dressed up in their best clothes for National Day as with any birthday party. Regardless of where in the world they come from, they are all little Norwegians that day and really proud. It surely runs very deep for kids and parents that they are both equal and welcome, even if for immigrants, the everyday struggles of integration and fitting in seem to override this sometimes.
We live in a high immigrant area and so I am much more aware of the multi-cultural side of Norway than if I was living in say, a more homogeneous community here. Not every community is like ours, not by a long shot. And in a place like this, the warmth, inclusion and celebration of Norway by all on National Day – ranging from red, white and blue pavlova for dessert to proud flying of Norwegian flags – is something I really believe has an incalculable feel-good integration impact that reaches far beyond a single day.