Although our cultural heritage has been intertwined with new traditions and customs here in the United States, the influence of Norway remains strong. Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed listening to the stories told by my Norwegian ancestors. Their tales of emigrating in the mid-1800s captivated me.
When my family and I journeyed to Norway for the first time I felt very much at home. We meandered the narrow streets of Bryggen in Bergen, visited the Munch museum in Oslo, and walked along the pathways of my ancestor’s farmstead in Grotness.
I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to connect with our family and learn more about Norway and the country I have loved from afar for so long. Today, I share with you a few things that I find most endearing about my ancestral homeland.
1. Allemannsretten in Norway
Allemannsretten (pronounced ALL-eh-mahns-ret-en) translates to “every man’s right” or “freedom to roam”. It is the law of the land.
The common law in Norway allows anyone to camp anywhere at any time, for up to three days. You may even camp on private property, as long as you’re not in the vicinity of buildings or agricultural fields.
Norwegians particularly take advantage of allemannsretten during Norway’s sun-drenched summer season. People jog on the trails, swim in the lakes and ponds, and camp in acre after acre of forest, regardless of whether the land is publicly or privately owned.
The only restrictions are on hunting, fishing, fire-building, and motorized vehicles — and of course you are expected to clean up after yourself. Otherwise, there’s nothing preventing you from spending a night anywhere in the woods or going on a spontaneous trek through the deepest nature you can find.
2. Den Norske Turistforening
You could also stay in one of the many cabins belonging to Den norske turistforening (Norwegian Trekking Association). These cabins are accessible to anyone for a small fee and are scattered throughout the country.
Den norske turistforening promotes simple, active, versatile, and environmentally friendly outdoor activities. It also works to preserve natural and cultural assets.
Many families also own their own sommerhus or hytte, essentially a simple summer residence. You will often see them near the sea but they can also be in attractive areas of the countryside. Most are of timber construction and thus suitable for year-round use. We spent a day with our family at their hytte fishing in the North Sea.
Undoubtedly, you have heard of the Scandinavian concept of hygge. While it has no real English translation, it essentially describes the feeling you get when you’re truly comfortable. It is very nostalgic; candlelight, anti-technology, and comforting traditions are all “hyggelig.”
4. Lefse & Lutefisk
Lefse is one of our favorite treats during the holidays. You make it with the simplest of ingredients: russet potatoes, flour, butter, and water. It is a grilled flatbread that closely resembles a tortilla in appearance with a more delicate texture.
We delight in spending an afternoon or two each year rolling out the lefse dough, and make sure we enjoy a few warm samples throughout the day, ultimately covering every surface of the kitchen in flour.
Another holiday specialty is lutefisk. While dried cod treated with lye must surely be the strangest culinary effort credited to the Norwegians, it is truly a treat when prepared properly. Not everyone is a fan of lutefisk, but those who are defend it vehemently. Others go to the opposite extreme and claim it’s a national disgrace.
Russefeiring (or “russ celebration”) is a traditional celebration for Norwegian high school students in their final spring semester. Students that take part in the celebrations are known as russ. The russefeiring traditionally starts around 20 April and ends on 17 May, the Norwegian Constitution Day or Syttende Mai (see #7).
Russ are easily identified by the distinctive colored overalls. These are usually red, but are sometimes black, blue, white or green depending on the graduate’s area of study.
When we visited in 2011, a cousin gave me her russekort (russ card), which reminded me of the wallet size senior photos we shared with friends when I graduated high school.
While the celebrations and parties can get a little out of hand, I think it’s a fun tradition.
6. Sandvika Music Scene
Sandvika is located about 15 minutes from the capital city of Oslo and is known for its excellent music scene.
Popular Norwegian musicians include the Ylvis brothers from Bergen, Norway (What Did the Fox Say?), Kyo, Röyksopp, Wardruna, and Jaga Jazzist.
Norway’s classical music scene is also notable. You can visit Edvard Grieg’s house in Bergen (known as Troldhaugen) and sit in on a lunchtime concert between visits to the concert hall, museum, and composer’s cabin.
7. Syttende Mai
Norwegian Constitution Day is the National Day of Norway and an official annual holiday. It is observed on the 17th of May and celebrated across the country.
Norwegians refer to the day simply as Syttende Mai.
Signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814, the constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom. The signing was an attempt to avoid ceding to Sweden after Denmark-Norway’s devastating defeat in the Napoleonic wars.
The celebrations consist of children’s parades featuring an abundance of flags and national costumes. What I love are the big smiles that are at the heart of the celebration.
8. Vigeland Parken
Vigeland Sculpture Park (Vigelandsparken) is one of the country’s most visited and most popular spots. It welcomes over a million visitors every year. The unique sculpture park is the life work of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869- 1943) with more than 200 bronze, granite and cast iron sculptures.
The sculptures, as well as various bridges, fountains, and a well known picnic area, is popular in the summer for sunbathing, games, and relaxation.
The sculpture park was my favorite tourist attraction in Scandinavia. I was previously unfamiliar with Vigeland’s work and I now count him among my all-time favorites.
9. The Scream
Perhaps Norway’s most acclaimed artist, Edvard Munch painted not just one Scream painting but a quartet in pastel on cardboard (1893), mixed media (oil, pastel, and tempera; 1893), pastel on cardboard (1895), and tempera on cardboard (1910). The later version was stolen in 1994 (recovered in three months) and again in 2004.
By May of 2006, three men had been convicted for the theft. Despite the city of Oslo offering a 2 million krone (about $313,000 U.S.) reward, the paintings remained missing. In August of that same year, Mars, Inc. released an ad that featured the red M&M playing hopscotch within the iconic painting and offered a reward of two million M&Ms for its return – and it worked!
10. Stave Churches Mix Christian Saints with Viking Dragons
Some of the most stunning churches in the world are also some of the simplest. Stave churches are wooden houses of worship that combine the austere, peaked architecture of Christianity with the Nordic designs and motifs of a Viking great hall. You will find Stave churches throughout Norway.
Using the same woodworking prowess that made them such adept shipbuilders, Vikings built traditional stave churches using nothing more that expertly crafted joints and joins – no nails or glue. The only stones used were in the base of the structures.