“Happy Birthday! Today we celebrate the Constitution, which is especially important in these times, because it reminds us of our freedoms and opportunities.”
This is how Alma Nymoen Nilsen began her speech to the local community in Risør before the children’s parade started. She herself had never been on a children’s parade before.
Her family was formerly a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which does not celebrate national days. It has now been a few years since the family left the religious community, and Nilsen has started celebrating things she has not been able to celebrate before, such as Christmas and birthdays. But she has had the good fortune to celebrate May 17th. Vårt Land interviewed her on May 16th, the day before the big day.
– Why is it important for you to speak tomorrow?
“I feel like I have to make up for everything I have not been involved in. Plus I have been a little angry that I have not been able to celebrate until now,” Nilsen says.
– How has it been for you not to be able to celebrate May 17th sooner?
“It has been difficult because you feel very outside. In primary school it was always a big deal. Everyone was going to celebrate and eat ice cream, and I struggled to understand what was wrong with May 17th.”
– Have fellow students reacted to you not celebrating?
Yes, in primary school I got a lot of questions. It was difficult because I could not answer several of the questions. I did not know what was wrong with celebrating the Constitution.
– What have you done on May 17th before now?
I’ve only had the day off. At the same time, I thought that now a lot of fun is happening that I can not participate in.
Nilsen thinks it is special to write a May 17th speech as she has never heard one before.
– Are you afraid of saying ‘hurray’ at the wrong time or not knowing what to do at any time?
“Yes. For example, I do not know any songs. But I will not be too stressed about it. I do not know what I’m really going to feel.”
– Do you know the national anthem?
“I know maybe two sentences. I did not sing it in primary school.”
– Have you had to google “how to celebrate May 17”?
– Yes. I googled “17th May”, “17th May speeches”, “children’s parade”, and “The Constitution”.
– How do you feel about giving a May 17th speech?
“It’s really a bit stressful. All the students I have attended know that I have never celebrated May 17th. But it will also be exciting and nice. I am very happy to finally experience it.”
While Nilsen was still a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she thought it was right for her not to celebrate National Day. She still felt left out, especially in meeting up with other children who wondered why she could not attend the celebration.
– Even if you thought it was not right, did you miss being able to celebrate?
“It is difficult for all children to feel left out, but at the same time it was completely unknown to me to celebrate May 17th. It is difficult to miss something, when you do not know what you are missing in the first place. But you know people think it’s fun.
“I wanted to join the parade and eat ice-cream and have something to celebrate with the family. We never celebrated anything.”
– Have you had to defend why you did not celebrate?
“No. I think everyone just knew that I was Jehovah’s Witness and that I did not celebrate. But in those years when I fell a little out of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were still people asking, and then I did not know what to answer.”
– Do you think that the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses is wrong?
“It’s part of the religion, so it’s a little hard to say. But I think it is a difficult situation to put children in. I want children to be able to decide what they want themselves.”
– Is May 17th the last holiday you did not celebrate? Because you have had confirmation, celebrated your birthday and Christmas?
“Yes. It is very fun and nice to experience these things, but it is also extremely difficult.”
– What’s difficult about that?
“First of all, I do not have a large family to celebrate things with. But it has also been mentally difficult to start practicing the celebrations.”
– How has it been for the family and learning to celebrate different days?
“I can say that the first time we celebrated Christmas was quite shocking. But then we got a Christmas tree last year, and now Dad has gone crazy with Christmas decorations, so it has been quite fun. It has just slipped a little into place.”
– What have you been most looking forward to celebrating?
– Maybe Christmas or my own birthday. My birthday is the same date as my parents’ wedding anniversary, something that can be celebrated as Jehovah’s Witnesses. So every birthday we celebrated mom and dad, instead of my birthday.
May 17th is associated with freedom. Have you reflected on this and your own freedom?
“Yes, I am very happy to be able to do things without constantly fearing that I am doing something wrong. I still get the feeling that I am doing something wrong, something I got when I had confirmation and celebrated Christmas. It’s because I grew up like that, and these things are unfamiliar. But it’s something I’ve managed to get over.”
Will the feeling that you are doing something wrong be with you for the rest of your life?
“I do not think I can avoid thinking about it. Even though I have been out of everything for a while, I still feel that everything is new and that I am not really a part of this.”
– What does it mean for you to be free?
“It is to be allowed to think and do what I want, without being punished for it or threatened with anything.”
– What will you think of when you shout ‘hip hip hurray’ tomorrow?
“I will think a lot about it being my first time celebrating 17th May. I will also be happy to celebrate with others who are having fun and are in a party mood.”