An “Outsider’s” Perspective on 17th of May from the Inside

I heard a local band passing by my home. I walked out on the balcony and listened to them until they passed. This is something I have always loved to do since I was a child. We were used to having this same joy every year. When we first heard the local band playing, it was the sign of spring and the coming of 17th of May.

Every year on the 17th of May, school children, many of whom are wearing national costumes, march in parades to the beat of thundering bands, and a resounding “Hurrah” can be heard throughout the day. Norwegians fill the streets with cheers and flags in celebration of Norway's constitution adopted in 1814. In other words, it is the birthday of a free modern Norwegian state.

This event took place in Eidsvoll at Carsten Ankers residence, a building which Ankers turned into one of the country’s most modern private residences since its construction at the beginning of the 19th century. On the 10th of April 1814, 112 elected representatives from almost the entire country arrived in Eidsvoll and the national assembly elected Christian Fredrik, Prince of Denmark, as King of Norway after approving the Constitution.

I remember when I was 9 years old I had stood in the same place where Prince Fredrik had sat in 1814; it was on a class tour to Eidsvoll. I felt very privileged to stand in the same room where Norway’s independence had been decided. That day when I came home, I described to my parents the interior of the assembly room and explained its importance. Basically I had a childish pride of having seen a very special historic place.

Every year before the 17th of May, our house used to be filled with Norwegian flags and 17th of May accessories. My father was the most happy and enthusiastic member of the family, usually teasing us with noisy celebration toys.

My father used to tell us about Norwegian history and take us to special historical places in Oslo and in nearby areas. For him, Norway was not only a place of new opportunities, but it was a country to which he had special connection since he was 7 years old.

In 1949, in the small village of Ankara in Turkey, his first grade teacher puts the world map in front of all the children and asks each to pick a country flag to draw. My father chooses Norway, a country he barely knew anything about, especially during those times and under the certain circumstances where the information flow was low. He told us later on that whenever he heard something about Norway he used to feel a difference in his heart. He couldn’t explain the reason until he finally saw Norway in 1972. After going around Norway for a week, he knew this was his home, he had said.

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