Norwegian Language Blog

Hooray, it’s bunad time! Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Traditions

Hipp hurra for 17. mai! It’s May 17th, the day when all Norwegians går mann av huse (go to the streets, literally ’go man off house’) to celebrate their beautiful country. In every Norwegian by (town) and bygd (little town, hamlet) there are 17. mai-tog (May 17th parades) with people waving norske flagg (Norwegian flags) and musicians playing. If you look around you, you’ll see a lot of people wearing bunad [BOOnahd], the Norwegian national costume!

All bunader have a lot in common, but vary in the details. In fact, every major Norwegian region has its own bunad! (Norwegians of Sami origin wear kofter on 17. mai, which are quite different.) Today, most bunader are worn by kvinner (women) on festive occasions. However, the traditional mannsbunad (male costume) is being used by an increasing number of menn.

The ordinary (female) bunad usually contains a skjørt (skirt, pronounced ”shirt”), belte (girdle) and a sjal (shawl). The sølje – a silver ornament worn on the chest – is also an important part of many of the costumes. Additionally, there may be some ”gadgets”, like a purse, a hodeplagg (headgear) or a kniv (for the male costumes). I always thought broderiene (the embroideries) that adorn a lot of bunader looked a bit like rosemaling (Norwegian ”rose painting”)…

Making a bunad takes a lot of time and money. The embroideries, the sølje, the folds – everything has to be correct. The silver for the sølje may cost thousands of Norwegian kroner. So, in some families, the daughters are given parts of the ornaments ”in advance”. For example, the year the girl has her 4th birthday, she’s given a piece of silver, and then another one next year, and so on until she celebrates her konfirmasjon and is given the full bunad.

Of course, only (grand)parents (usually (grand)mothers) with a lot of time on their hands can make a bunad for their (grand)daughter. It is more common to pay a systue (dressmaker’s workroom) to do the work.

If you’d like to have a Norwegian bunad yourself, it’s totally possible! But you should be prepared to pay something between 15.000 and 30.000 Norwegian kroner (2.500-5.000 US dollars).

There are various places to go bunad-shopping, one of them is the web site

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.