Feature: May 1st - Labour Day

Today, Saturday May 1st, is Labour Day in Norway. A public holiday filled with different meanings and emotions, - depending on where you are from,- and who you are.

Read how a former Norway Post staff member, from the US, experienced his first Labour Day in Norway a few years back:
Today, Saturday May 1st, is Labour Day in Norway. A public holiday filled with different meanings and emotions, - depending on where you are from,- and who you are.

Here is how a former Norway Post staff member, from the US, experienced his first Labour Day in Norway a few years back:
-Last year on Norway’s Labor Day, I raked leaves at my stepmother’s house. It wasn’t a conscious decision. After enjoying the parade and festivities in downtown Hamar, we arrived at her house to find everyone doing yard work. I grabbed a rake and joined in, and after a few hours, felt quite satisfied at the large pile of leaves in her yard.

The next evening I was over at a friend’s house. He asked how I spent Labor Day, and when I told him of the fun time I with a rake and large plastic bags, his chin dropped to his chest and he shook his head.

“You worked on Labour Day?” he asked, a touch of sadness in his voice.

“I’m not supposed to?”

He let out a long sigh. “No. You’re not supposed to work on Labour Day.”

Of all the sins a foreigner can commit, I hadn’t imagined this one. But it’s true: you’re not supposed to work on Labour Day in Norway. It’s the one day set aside for everyone in Norway to enjoy a collective day of rest. And it’s taken quite seriously by a great many Norwegians.

The socialist Labour Party is responsible for the creation of Labour Day. It became a Norwegian national holiday celebrated every May 1st following World War II, but the idea originated in Paris at international labour congress in 1898. Labour Day was strictly observed in Norway for the first few decades of its existence. At that time, the life of workers was hard. Working six to seven days a week, ten hours a day, for very little money was the norm. A national day of rest was truly a significant event back then.

These days, the happenings of Labour Day differ from town to town. Usually there are union demonstrations, and both local and national politicians hold speeches at various gatherings. Parades with marching bands are common, as well. In Hamar, men pull the tarps off their hobby cars and polish vintage automobiles and take them on a slow procession around town, blowing their horns and waving.

All Norwegians, however, do not observe the day. Yard work is a form of silent protest for individuals, like my stepmother, whose political affiliations lie elsewhere than with the Labour Party.

The economy of Norway has undergone great changes since the Second World War. The working day and week is shorter, and the wealth of individuals and companies is more evenly distributed. As a consequence, support for Labour Day has dwindled. Each year crowds at the demonstrations, parades, and speeches are smaller and smaller, a fact that the Labour Party has criticized.

“We Norwegians have a great respect for what socialists did in the early days,” says Berit Broch, a providential politician and member of the Conservative Party. “Now Norway is so wealthy that there are few differences between socialists and conservatives.”

Todd Schuett, for The Norway Post.

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