Norway cities cancel much-loved National Day celebrations

Norway's major cities have finally moved to cancel the colourful and vibrant children's parades that traditionally accompany the country's National Day celebrations, in a decision both long-delayed and inevitable.

Norway cities cancel much-loved National Day celebrations
The 17 May parade in Oslo back in 2019. Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Visit Norway
The parades, which began 150 years ago when a group of several hundred children marched up to the Royal Castle in Oslo, are the central feature of the country's “syttende mai”, or May 17, celebrations, which mark the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1815.
“It strikes deep to not have a children's parade in Oslo. This has historical dimensions,” Pia Farstad Von Hall, the leader of Oslo's May 17 committee told NRK. “This has been a difficult decision, but at the same time it is the right decision.” 
The parades were banned during the German occupation, with some Norwegians instead meeting in secret to celebrate May 17.  But they were renewed on May 17 1945, just eight days after Germany surrendered on May 8. 
The May 17 committees in Bergen, Stavanger, and Drammen also announced that their local events would be cancelled on Tuesday evening
Farstad Von Hall said that her committee had judged that generating such a concentration of people in the centre of Oslo could simply not meet the current guidelines on reducing the spread of coronavirus, no matter what mitigating measures were taken.
Her counterparts in Stavanger and Bergen, Ann Sesilie Tekfeldt and  Erik Næsgaard, also announced on Tuesday that their cities would not hold children's parades. 
“We are planning for a nice celebration, but it will be done digitally,” Tekfeldt said, saying that the municipality aimed to stream events throughout the day. “We'll do a broadcast. A gala performance from Stavanger Concert Hall.” 
“It will be a different May 17,” said Næsgaard. “You can't have large gatherings of people, and without an audience, there will be no parade.” 
Norway's government had for weeks been delaying a decision on the celebrations, unsurprisingly given their special emotional importance to people in the country. 
“We know that this is a decision we have to take, but we want to know a little more first,” Justice Minister Monica Mæland said at a press conference on April 1. 

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Oslo police stop May 17th parade with ‘around 150’ participants

Police in Oslo halted a parade to mark Norway’s National Day on Monday in which the number of participants appeared to exceed the city’s current restrictions on public assembly.

Oslo police stop May 17th parade with 'around 150' participants
Photo by Ernest Ojeh on Unsplash

Around 150 people gathered in central Oslo to take part in a parade, which was stopped by police as it headed towards the Royal Palace, newspaper VG reported.

“They had a size of about 150, give or take. They were moving around the city centre and at one point crossed Karl Johan (street) towards the palace,” senior police officer Tor Gulbrandsen told VG.

The event was called an “alternative May 17th parade” by Gulbrandsen, in absence of the city’s regular National Day celebrations.

Norway’s current coronavirus restrictions allow parades of up to 200 people provided social distancing is observed. But restrictions in Oslo are significantly tighter, with public assembly limited at 10 people.


“Another event was taking place at the palace. The police therefore chose to stop this alternative parade before it reached Slottsplassen [Palace Square, ed.],” the police officer said.

Participants joined the parade as a protest against Norway’s coronavirus restrictions, VG writes.

The royal family was on the balcony at the palace, in keeping with regular May 17th traditions, as the alternative parade approached the location, police said.

“Things happened calmly, but the police had to clearly communicate with the organisers to prevent them from disrupting the other event,” Gulbrandsen said.

That included using megaphones to inform them that their event was “illegal”.

The parade then moved towards the Egertorget square, by which time the number of participants had dwindled.

“Police were in the area to ensure they did not disrupt other events and have thoroughly documented the behaviour that went on. We must subsequently look at whether there will be stronger response (by police), it is too early to say as of now,” Gulbrandsen told VG.