For many Norwegians, May 17th is even more important than Christmas.
Norwegians are the only people in Scandinavia who really go in for national pageantry, and May 17th is the day they pull out all the stops. «Syttende mai» as it’s known in the local vernacular is far and away the biggest street party Norway has all year, easily eclipsing New Year’s Eve.
Girls and women come out looking like Heidi in their colorful dirndl dresses, while the men and boys look like Georgian gentlemen in frock coats, top hats, and 17th-century shoes. Often, Norwegians will also sport the tartan pattern traditional to their home province.
Some of the costumes cost a ridiculous amount of money (more on that below), so all this dressing up is something the country takes very seriously indeed. Children’s parades make their way through every town and city, to the proud cheers of parents, before everyone sidles off for an afternoon’s festive drinking.
Wearing a bunad, a festival costume has many connotations and denotations and is an important event of many levels. In many places and many circles, a bunad is wonderful for any and all special occasions.
One primary focus is an appreciation of an homage to your Norwegian heritage in general and to your part of Norway in particular. It is customary to wear a bunad or folkedraktfrom an area to which you have a genetic or residential connection. Then you won’t have to explain to those who greet you (feeling they’ve found someone from their region) that you just liked that particular dress.
Your bunad should display good to excellent fabrics and workmanship, fit nicely, and be clean and in good repair. Because you are wearing traditional (or traditionally related) clothing, conservative makeup and hairstyles are suitable. More contemporary additions such as earrings, high heels and nylons are out of place. References to the bunadpolice are made partly in jest!
Since a bunad is a festival garment, less ornate traditional dress is more suitable and practical for work situations. Everyday cotton or wool costumes, colored and patterned shirts, and aprons, and simpler sølje are among the possibilities. Consider getting every day (hverdags) dress, which is less expensive and easier to make and care for. If fabrics are carefully chosen and workmanship is excellent, you will have appropriate clothing for traditional events.
How much does this beauty cost?
Bunads are expensive garments with embroideries and filigree silver ornaments, consisting of several components often including aprons, headdresses, scarves or shawls.
You could easily buy a few prestigious and beautiful dresses from famous designers for the cost of a single bunad. Moreover, bunad ownership and use have grown fast in the last few decades.
It is estimated that Norwegians own altogether 2.5 million bunads, worth more than 40 billion kroner (€500 million). It means, almost 50% of citizens own a bunad.