Norway's Rich Culture and Traditions

Reine Rorbuer

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Much of the culture of Norway can be traced back to the Vikings, a group of Scandinavian seafaring pirates, traders, and pioneers that settled in Northern Europe in the eighth century.

However, throughout their history, the people of this country have always identified with rural culture, which can be seen in its traditional costumes and folk music that are still celebrated today. More modern expressions of Norwegian culture include Jante Law and Constitution Day.

Jante Law is an essential part of modern Norwegian culture and emphasizes humility, equality, respect, and simplicity. In Jante Law, wealth is not flaunted, people don't criticize others, and egalitarianism is key.

May 17 is Constitution Day, Norway's holiday celebrating its nationhood. On this day, Norwegians participate in parades with bands, unions, civic and volunteer groups, schools, and performers.

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Food and Cuisines

Starters, Spisekroken, Bergen, Norway

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Norway's food culture is heavy on seafood, but the most typical food is thinly sliced brown cheese eaten with bread. Other popular cornerstones are cured or smoked salmon, whale steak, and Fiskepudding.

Breakfast usually includes fish, crispbread or flatbread, yogurt, cheese, coffee, and milk. Lunch includes fruit, coffee, and the popular open-faced sandwich with cheese, cold meat, or paté. Dinner consists of root vegetables such as carrots or boiled potatoes paired with fish and meats such as whale, chicken, beef, pork, or chicken. 

On Constitution Day, Norwegians celebrate by eating flatbread, thinly sliced dried meats, porridge, beer, and aquavit. Learn about tipping in Norway.

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Folklore and Viking Myths

The 200th Anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution

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Norway has been inhabited by several different nomadic cultures for many centuries, so folklore is well-established and plays a big part in its modern culture and heritage. Legends include references to trolls, elves, witches, and other non-human characters alongside human heroes and heroines. 

Norway's natural features have also greatly influenced its folklore. For example, many stories are told about trolls and elves that live in the forests. The folklore of Norway also tells us about a Christmas goat called julebukk.

Many of the stories of Viking conquests still live on today as folklore, too. In fact, one Viking story about the curse of Andvari's ring was actually the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

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Folk Music and Dance

Norwegian musician Annbjorg Lien plays Hardanger fiddle during the World Music Institute Nordic Fiddle Festival at Symphony Space, New York, New York, March 27, 1999

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Norway folk music, also influenced by the Vikings, has an unbroken tradition in that it has been passed down to each generation for hundreds of years. The folk music culture consists of music in vocal and instrumental pieces that are often performed by soloists. Popular folk musicians and singers include Susanne Lundeng and Odd Nordstoga.

The traditional instrument for instrumental folk music in Norway is the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele) followed by the harp. The Hardanger fiddle is often called the national instrument of Norway, and you can even hear it being used extensively in The Lord of the Rings soundtracks.

Typical traditional dances for Norway folk music include the Halling (hallingdansen), shown in Alexander Rybak's winning performance at the Eurovision Song Contest.

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Folk Costume (Bunad) and Traditional Clothing

Children in traditional Norwegian Bunad

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The traditional national costume of Norway is called bunad, an elaborate costume dating back to the 1800s with a lot of embroidery and jewelry. There are approximately 200 regional variations and, as elsewhere, there's a Viking influence on most traditional Norwegian clothing.

Both men and women own these peasant costumes. It is part of Norwegian culture to wear the bunad as the Norwegian folk dress for folk dancing at official celebrations, weddings, and especially on May 17, which is Constitution Day in Norway.

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