17th May

1866 Erik Satie born – listen to his Gymnopedie

Syttende Mai/Norway Constitution Day:

Norway means ‘the North Way’. It’s the western part of Scandinavia and is full of fjords, big grooves carved by the sea after the last Ice Age.

When the Roman Empire was ruined by Goths and Vandals in the 5th century, Norwegian chiefs became suspiciously rich.

Harald Fairhair united the country into one big Viking land in 872, but he was quite a mean ruler and many Vikings left to settle in Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Britain and Ireland.

King Olav Trygvasson spread Christianity through the country; he also, as any sensible Christian might, attacked England with 390 ships. On his return he built Norway’s first church.

In 1319 Magnus Erikson, King Magnus VII, also became king of Sweden, uniting the two countries (Swedish kings were elected by nobles). His son married a princess of Denmark, and their son became king of Norway and Denmark.

Erik of Pomerania

But then he died, so his mum became Queen Margaret of Norway and Denmark in 1388, and then her great-nephew, Erik of Pomerania, was crowned king of Norway, Denmark and Sweden and the three countries became the Kalmar Union.

Sweden broke away in 1521 but Norway and Denmark stayed together for 436 years.

In 1801 Nelson led the Battle of Copenhagen (I don’t know why we were fighting Denmark-Norway. Just because we could?), the one where he raised his telescope to his blind eye and said “I see no ships” so he didn’t have to withdraw.

Denmark sided with Napoleon, the losing side, and ended up having to give Norway to Sweden, although for some reason Denmark kept Norway’s Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

This was when Norway declared independence, celebrated on this day. But Sweden was all like, Oh no you didn’t, and declared war for Norway’s cheek.

Charles XIII of Sweden

This was a stupid time to have a war, as Sweden didn’t have a great military, Norway was too poor, and Britain and Russia were blockading Norway’s coast (why? Were we just bullying everyone that week?). So they declared a ceasefire and decided to stay separate while sharing the same king, Charles XIII of Sweden.

Norway was trying to establish a cultural identity at this time, with painters like Hans Gude and musicians like Edvard Grieg. In 1905 the two countries finally peacefully separated. The people preferred a monarchy to a republic (what?) and chose (what?) Prince Carl of Denmark (what?).

In WWI Norway was neutral but its merchant fleet was used for fighting by the UK and they did join in the trade blockade against Germany.

In WWII Norway intended to be neutral but Germany invaded them, and Britain was no help because we were trying to get Germany out of France too. The Norwegian king, parliament and resistance fighters moved to London to carry on fighting, while those who stayed tried to sabotage Germany’s nuclear programme by destroying Norway’s heavy water (2H2O… not sure how this is used to produce nuclear energy).

Norway’s merchant fleet fought every naval battle, from Dunkirk to the Normandy landings. Norway gives the UK a Christmas tree every year to thank us for our help in WWII.

Since then Norway has been quite socialist, although anti-Communist and on America/NATO’s side, and has its own petrol industry.

Norway has wonderful wildlife, like the European beaver, the Arctic fox, sperm whales, basking sharks, grey wolves, polar bears and brown bears. It is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun as in summer the sun doesn’t set.

Norwegian modern music is famous for black metal, but also Royksopp and A-ha. Norwegian artists include Edvard Munch.

Celebrations on this day include Leikarring dancers, herring toss, Norwegian treats such as lefse and even a pack of Vikings and Valkyries. Read some Norse myths or re-tell them with puppets.

Viking activities include some BBC ideas, writing your name in runes, making a Viking helmet, playing Viking boardgames, . And I love these Viking helmet cakes and these Viking longboat hotdogs! You can even make Viking soap out of conkers.

Nauru Constitution Day:

Nauru is a small island in Micronesia. 3,000 years ago there were 12 tribes living on the island, now represented as star points on Nauru’s flag.

In 1798 a British whale hunter discovered Nauru and named it ‘Pleasant Island’. From 1830 European sailors replenished their supplies at Nauru, trading food and fresh water for palm wine and guns.

In 1878 the guns came in very handy for a civil war, which stopped 10 years later when Germany decided they owned Nauru.

In 1900 phosphate (basically thousands of years of bird poo, used in farming) was discovered in the island. At first it was mined by the Pacific Phosphate Company, but after WWI Australia had invaded, and then Nauru was owned by Australia, New Zealand and the UK so the British Phosphate Commission took over mining rights.

In WWII Japan invaded, and three years later in 1945 Australia forced them out. In 1966 Nauru became independent and a year later gained the mining rights, becoming the best-paid people in the Pacific. But then the phosphate ran out, and Nauru realised the cost of the environmental devastation. Australia is paying to repair some of this damage.

Nauruans are the most obese people in the world: 95% are obese.

Australian-rules football and weight-lifting are the national sports.

Other events today:

  • Galician Literacy Day
  • IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia)
  • Liberation Day (DR Congo)
  • National Famine Memorial Day (Ireland)

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