Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Days in May

One thing I really dig about Norway is the over-abundance of holidays in the month of May.

On May 1, there’s May Day, also known as Labor Day. Labor Day is really about recognizing workers’ rights by… not working for the day.  Right on.

May 13 is Ascension Day, which is known as Kristi Himmelfartsdag, literally translated as ‘Christ’s sky speed day’. It does what it says on the tin, I suppose.

May 17 is known as Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai, and celebrates the signing of Norway’s constitution, which marked an independent Norway… or so one would think. Norway was actually still under Swedish rule when the Norwegian constitution was signed in 1814 and was not technically a fully autonomous state until 1905 (the years in between Norway had her own government but was in a ‘loose personal union’* with Sweden). But let’s not trifle with historical details. The 17th of May is about watching cute kids parade about in bunads.**

May 24 is Whit Monday, or Pinsedag, which marks the day after Pentecost, which is the day that the Holy Spirit visited Jesus’ disciples 50 days after Easter. Really, the holiday is Whit Sunday, but don’t hate on Whit Monday for being an afterthought – it still means you don’t have to go to work, and I am fully prepared to celebrate that fact under any guise.

One day that is not celebrated as a public holiday is today, May 8, known in Norway as Frigjøringsdagen, or ‘Liberation Day’. WWII history buffs (and hopefully others who have a general awareness of world events), know May 8 as V-E Day, the day that the unconditional surrender of Nazi forces to the Allies was ratified in Berlin and thus officially ending Nazi occupation in Europe.

What many living outside of Norway (and, let’s be honest, probably a few living inside as well) don’t realize is that Norway was continuously occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945, and the land still bears the marks, both emotionally and physically.

The occupation halted all existing trade agreements between Norway and all trading partners except Germany, so the Norwegian economy was paralyzed overnight and scarcity of resources and the need to become self-sufficient in terms of food production and other resources became necessary requirements for most Norwegian citizens. This situation translated into an enduring attitude of responsibility with resources and a general frugality amongst Norwegians. If you want to read a little more about the Nazi occupation, check this out. (Hey, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel if someone else said it better and said it already.)

In fact, you can still find evidence of Nazi bunkers dotted all over the Norwegian landscape, particularly near the beaches. And if you listen to local historians here in Stavanger, the airport, Sola, was a Nazi airbase during WWII, and stories abound that German pilots hated to land there as there is a fjord immediately at the base of the runway. Apparently a few unfortunate souls missed the landing strip!

So while May 8 might not be formally acknowledged as a holiday here in Norway, I think it is worth remembering the day as it played an important role in the formation of Norway's modern day identity. Spare a thought today for those that played a part in the liberation and rebuilding of the country. 
* ‘Loose personal union’ literally means that Norway and Sweden were united under one monarch, even if the phrase actually reminds you more of that special friend you had in between relationships in college. This 'union' occurred because the Swedes demanded, under the 1814 Convention of Moss, that the Norwegian heir apparent at the time, Prince Christian Frederik, relinquish his claim to the Norwegian throne. Incidentally, the Treaty of Moss (August 1814) was signed three months after the Norwegian constitution was signed (May 1814). Essentially the Swedes refused to acknowledge the Norwegian constitution unless a few demands were met, one of them being that poor old Prince Chris had to feck off to Denmark. In November 1814, the Norwegians elected the Swedish monarch, King Charles XIII, as king of Norway as well. Word is the king never even visited Norway once, which I am guessing miffed the Norwegians a little.
** Don’t get me wrong – I am not underestimating the importance of what May 17 marks in terms of Norwegian history. But these days it really is all about the kids and parades, which is totally cute to see and fine by me. It’s sort of like how July 4th in the US is a little less about Thomas Jefferson and a little more about how many hot dogs you can eat before watching the fireworks. Holidays evolve.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Give it up

The New York Times published an article last week about the ‘growing trend’ of Americans renouncing US citizenship. But in true sensationalist style, it was over-reporting on an underwhelming issue.

The article states that 743 expatriates renounced US citizenship last year. This would be remarkable if it didn’t comprise less than 0.01% of the 5.2 million Americans living abroad. Not one percent. Not even one-tenth of one percent. One-one hundredth of one percent. In fact, these 743 folks represent a mere 0.0002% of the total population of approximately 309 million American citizens. Based on those figures, I'm not sure I would call this spate of renunciations an epidemic.

I have to assume it was a slow news day.

What’s even more disappointing is that it wasn't just over-reporting - it was actually re-reporting. Virtually the same article was written by another NY Times journo back in 2006. Like, really… the same article. I would write my freshman level college students up for lack of originality had they pulled a stunt like this. I get that sometimes you have to recycle a story, but, come on… the same anonymous Swiss resident business executive and leader of a political interest group were the only two sources each NYT journo could find over a two and a half year stretch?

I’m all for a little hyperbolic reporting (heck, I get most of my news from Perez Hilton and the Daily Mail, so I don’t judge), but at least make it significant. And, for the love of Pete, make it original.