How Norwegian Traditions Work

Personal Milestones: Old Meets New

Children sometimes don simplified bunad for parades on Constitution Day.
Children sometimes don simplified bunad for parades on Constitution Day.

Norway's largely secular culture doesn't mean a lack of celebration -- in fact, Norwegians go out of their way to recognize many personal milestones. Birthdays, for example, are celebrated with gifts, songs and, of course, cake (often chocolate- or fruit-and-cream–flavored). If a child's birthday takes place during the school year, she also receives special distinction during class. Birthday celebrations are generally reserved for kids, but 18th birthdays (when Norwegians come of age) merit special recognition: They include the right to buy alcohol and tobacco, drive and vote.

Another milestone is high school graduation, which is marked by a national, multi-week celebration called russfeiring -- a period designed to get the crazies out before adulthood sets in. Participants (called russ) dress in their school colors and compete for russkneuter, badges that they earn for their wild antics; they also make personal trading cards that they hand out to onlookers. Russfeiring culminates on Constitution Day, the commemoration of Norway's birth as an independent nation from Denmark in 1905, and russ participate in the Constitution Day parade. They've earned a well-deserved reputation for being the liveliest part of it.

Young Norwegians often marry a few years after graduation; in modern ceremonies, brides wear white or silver, and the couple exchanges rings. About half of those who married as of 2010 chose to have religious ceremonies [source: Cantor]. A reception with food, dancing and cake (a massive ring-shaped tower called kransekake) follows the ceremony.

A more traditional wedding might include bunad, the official costume of Norway. Made of wool, bunad are embroidered with designs symbolizing a family's heritage [source: Kagda]. Bunad weren't always an important part of Norwegian culture, though -- in fact, they might have disappeared completely if not for the nationalist romantic movement of the mid-1800s. During that time, folk costumes saw a cultural resurgence, and bunad officially became the national attire [source: NBF].

Norway is as progressive as it is traditional, as evidenced by the government's 2009 legalization of same-sex marriage, which allows churches to choose whether to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples [source: Associated Press]. Many couples also engage in sambor -- living together out of wedlock -- and receive the same legal benefits as married couples [source: Cantor].

Can't get enough? We don't blame you. Read on for lots more information about Norway and its culture.

Author's Note

Being of primarily Eastern European ancestry and with a passport that's rather emptier than I'd like, I began this article with very little knowledge of Norway and its culture. At first, the research process was rather overwhelming -- as you can imagine, any country is made up of so many unique and interesting facets that entire books don't always do them justice. It was definitely a challenge to narrow down what I was going to include in the article. I was particularly interested in how Norway handles religion: As an American, where church and state are separate, I had never thought of the possibility of the two coexisting as peacefully as they seem to in Norway. The real coolest thing I found about Norway, though? Tradition dictates each home has seven different kinds of cookies at Christmas. Seven! I think we can all get behind that.

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