What Is A Norwegian Bunad?

We were invited this year to attend my cousin’s daughter’s confirmation. They live in Stavanger, Norway.

As we packed our bags to go, excited to go to a new country and city, and the improbability of the Iraqi/ Cuban non conformist cocktail that my cousin was mixing in Norway. Non religious for as long as I remember, I was surprised that a religious occasion was bringing the family together to this oil rich coastal town, and as we got to our fabulous beach hotel, the Sola Strand  (only a 5 minute drive from the airport), the blinding sunshine partially obscured ladies dressed in traditional costumes walking along the rugged dunes.

The surreal greeting piqued our interest and we keenly checked in and went for a long walk along the beach, before the family gathered for the evening.

We came across several parties of families all dressed in exquisite traditional outfits, from babies to grannies, girls and boys in their finery, and were soon to learn the story of the traditional Bunad.

My cousin explained that April and May are confirmation season, and although originally a Catholic practice, then adopted by the State Protestant Church, was still considered an important initiation into adult life.

Confirmation was compulsory in Norway up until 1912, however, the practice has continued as a tradition.  

Today, more and more 15 year olds take part in a course run by the Norwegian Humanist Association, which is designed to teach people about what it means to live in harmony, the importance of human rights and ethics of living in Norwegian society.  This year 400,000 young people took part in this way and my cousin's daughter was one of them. 

After a 10 week course the confirmants were this year required to spend 24 hours at an army camp, re-enacting a dictatorial scenario, where the participants are divided into groups, given fatigues and drilled in an authoritarian environment.

Sleep and food deprived, mind and fitness games are played to test breaking point. Rewards of gruel, milk or intermittent sleep are allowed only if orders are followed / no matter what the ethical consequence, otherwise blindfolded solitary confinement is administered....

Sounds pretty heavy for a 15 year to take, but I guess this is light compared to other adulthood initiation schemes!

 On confirmation day, a ceremony is attended where a certificate is given and the family gather for a day of feasting and fun.

 People wear their best outfits with many wearing the national dress – the Bunad.  To qualify as a kosher Bunad very strict rules must be followed. Patterns are determined by region, and the National Bunad Council are particular about which materials and patterns qualify and which are consigned to the 'festive costumes' categories instead. 

It’s not unusual for Mothers and Grandparents to spend months making and embroidering a wool and silk Bunad for a confirmant in their family trying to get it just right.


You can get a lot of wear out of a Bunad- and adorn it for all sorts of celebrations throughout your life. Weddings, Baptisms and Confirmations, Balls and Norwegian Constitution Day are typically bunad wearing days, and because of this they have a certain amount of future proofing built into them. Skirts are tightly gathered round the waist, and hems are very large to allow for both lateral and longitudinal growth. 

If you are not Norwegian and living in Norway- wanting to assimilate, and can afford to buy a bunad, they don't come cheap. In fact getting out a mortgage for an eye watering £4000 outfit (which granted will last you your entire life and become an heirloom if you stay in the country and can pass it on to kids) - is an Investment. If you want to sell it, it apparently retains 75% of its value! 

Much of the cost though is attributed to the silver components of the costume, which are accumulated throughout life with every achievement; marriage, births etc. (A bit like girl guides badges) and fixed to the outfit- normally round the belt.

A beg is also fixed to the belt which you can very handily put your mobile phone in! For the silk vests on top there is a choice of colour, pink, cream, blue or green.

Music and poetry are woven throughout the celebration, and keeping up with modern day technology we all did a 'kahoot' quiz to test how well we really knew the confirmation girl!

My four year old wanted to play, and strangely guessed most answers right just on colour preference! 

My cousin spent weeks putting together a wonderful film of her daughter growing up with all her family, and we spent a few hours making up a song about our lovely girl, and putting it to the tune of 'Daisy Daisy' which considering the musicality of our family was a very wise choice...

We finished off the weekend by going on a Fjord cruise together and drinking artesian water from the waterfalls on route. Stunning scenery. Very relaxing for us, although I reckon it will take a month at least for my cousin to recover!