Norway’s Independence Day (Now & Then)

On May 17, 1814, Norway became a free and independent nation and all over Norway it is still celebrated. Norwegians are very patriotic and believe it is a day for the children, as they are the future of the country. People of all ages line the streets of the small towns, dressed in traditional Norwegian costumes called bunad, or wearing red, white and blue ribbons, the colors of their flag, pinned to their best clothes. They watch as the school children march through the streets waving small flags, singing the national anthem ‘Ja vi elsker dette landet’, ‘Yes we love this country’. Marching bands follow close behind as people shout “hurra for Norge” afterwards there is ice cream and soda for all.

In honor of May seventeenth or ‘syttende mai’ as the Norwegians call it, I’m going to tell a story my grandmother, Gerd told me. She was a twenty-eight-year old widow with three young children and a small farm to run.

May 16, 1947

This story took place sixty-five years ago today, on the very island in Norway where I live now…

With her children in school, Gerd stood outside in the unexpected and much appreciated sunshine hanging clothes. Embraced by a warm and caressing breeze she tried in vain not to be fooled by this simple pleasure. She knew only too well that at any moment the cold, northern wind could come charging back. Glancing out past the fields, which seemed greener that day, she noticed a small boat coming in the fjord with a flock of seagulls in stubborn pursuit. Her eyes followed the boat as it chugged through the still water creating a rising swell, which lost all strength as it descended towards the shore. She lost sight of the boat as it passed Kråkefjellet, ‘Crow’s Mountain’.

Hearing the familiar sound of the Tjeld, Pied Oystercatchers, and the Vipe, Northern Lapwings, announcing their return, confirmed that spring had arrived. The Tjeld were large black and white birds with red bills and matching long red legs, with their distinctive looks and harsh cries there was no mistaking them. The Vipe were also black and white but could not be confused with the Tjeld, as the lapping sound from its wings and the shrill of its call make it unique.

Perhaps it was the warm May sun or maybe the anticipation of the day to come, whatever it was Gerd felt happy. It was not often she could enjoy a carefree day with her children. Basking in the sunshine, lost in her thoughts, she was startled when one of her son’s classmates suddenly appeared.

Out of breath from running, he said the teacher wanted her to come quickly, then turned and started running back towards the school. With a frightening feeling deep in her gut, she followed after the boy, all the way to the tiny one room schoolhouse near the beach. There she found her son lying on the ground, his nose bleeding and his eye swollen. The teacher, a tall, stern, no nonsense man, explained how he had lined the class up outside so they could practice for the coming day. They had been singing and waving their flags as they marched around the school yard when her son, jokingly lifted his flag and yelled, “Heil Hitler.” Hearing this the angry teacher hit him and knocked him to the ground.

Shocked by the scene, Gerd cried out, “He’s only a boy and obviously has no real understanding of the war, or its devastation.”

Knowing this was no excuse, as it had only been a few years since the war ended, and seeing the sullen look in the teacher’s eyes, she understood there would be no making amends.

“Take him home and I don’t want to see him back here again for the rest of this school year!” The teacher ordered through clenched teeth.

The happiness Gerd felt earlier that day was now gone, gobbled up by life.

Disturbed by this story, knowing as a mother how she must have felt, I wanted to comfort her, but didn’t know how. Sensing despair in my silence, it was she who offered me comfort instead.

“Oh Maggie, don’t worry. It was a long time ago and things were much different back then,” she said.


About maggiemyklebust

I grew up on the Jersey Shore and now live in Norway. I have also lived in Houston and the Netherlands. I have written a memoir called Fly Away Home.

Posted on May 16, 2012, in all things Norsk, Family stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Beautiful, I got swept away in the story there… Poor child, and poor mother – no-one wants to familiarise a child with the horrors of war. It takes away some of their innocence.

  2. When I read this story for the first time (last week) I understood both sides. My father lost his house (bombed) and his mother during the war and his father was beaten by German soldiers. It was the only prejudice he ever had that I was aware of. He laughed hard at “Hogans Heroes” and got over it all eventually. There is a book, Folklore Fights the Nazis by Kathleen Stokker that is full of stories and humor during that time. It is a different look at the conditions of that time.

  3. My sister just told me about the book that Jon mentioned. The Norwegian folklore was used to bolster and bond the resistance, in the same way Brer Rabbit Tales told by slaves in the American South were thinly veiled pokes at their foolish masters.

  4. Believe it or not, I spent many years celebrating Norway’s independence day. I remember the parties and gatherings with much fondness.

    i really enjoy your blog and nominated you for the versatile blogger award

    • Did you live in Norway?
      Thank you so much for the nomination, I really appreciate it!

      • No, actually in Nebraska at the time. My dad’s family moved here from Norway and he has many relatives that live there now. A lot of the members of the church we attended at the time are Norwegian and so every year we would all get together and celebrate with good food, lots of laughs, and more than a few Norwegian jokes 🙂

      • I grew up in New Jersey (under the same circumstances) my Dad’s family came from Norway and we always celebrated May 17. We were members of the ‘Sons of Norway’. 🙂

  5. Beautiful writing. Really makes me want to re-read your book. I listed that on my goodreads bookshelf today, with a five star rating. 🙂

  6. annie siersema potter

    your grandmother was a strong woman… just like you maggie. love the pictre of adam and emily… happy may 17th! love from jersey

  1. Pingback: “I don’t want to go home!” « flyawayhomebook

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