As America celebrates Independence Day on July 4, there’s a different celebration going on in Norway. It’s Her Majesty Queen Sonja’s birthday, and Norwegians don’t take birthdays lightly. Queen Sonja is beloved in her native land where she grew up a commoner and married Crown Prince Harold in 1968 after a nine-year courtship. Their fairytale marriage has lasted 52 years and counting. In Norway, Queen Sonja Day is an official holiday with Norwegian flags flying all across the country.
Sonja’s is truly a Cinderella story. In the days before Diana, Kate and Meghan, royal marriages to non-royals were almost unheard of. In fact, only when Crown Prince Harold declared he would never marry if he couldn’t marry Sonja, did his parents relent, thereby ensuring continuation of the royal lineage. Harold V ascended the throne upon the death of his father, King Olav, in 1991. Queen Sonja has been busy modernizing the monarchy ever since, paving the way for all other commoners who later married royal heirs, including her daughter-in-law, who was a single mother with a disadvantaged past, when she married Crown Prince Haakon.
Known for her altruistic work, Queen Sonja was a member of the committee for Norway’s first nationwide humanitarian telethon back in 1974. In 2005, she created Queen Sonja’s School Award, which is presented each year to a school that demonstrates excellence in promoting inclusion and equality. She visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya in 2010 and supported the Norwegian Refugee Council’s work to help and protect people fleeing war zones. Awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Queen Sonja donated her prize money to build schools for refugees in Tanzania. Queen Sonja is patron of the MIRA Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women.
Queen Sonja is an accomplished skier and passionate outdoorswoman, having hiked across most of Norway.
She’s also an avid patron of arts and culture and a skilled graphic artist, ceramicist and photographer. In fact, the Queen Sonja Art Stable, the gallery that was a birthday gift from her husband the king, has been closed during the pandemic and is set to reopen to the public on July 4. The gallery, which is located in a former stable in the Palace Park, was first opened in 2017 to commemorate Queen Sonja’s 80th birthday.
And yes, there will be champagne and kaker (cake) to mark the occasion, not to mention countless renditions of that joyous Norwegian birthday song: “Hurra for Deg,” which involves lots of clapping and dancing around. Roughly translated, it goes something like this:
Hooray for you who’re completing your year,
Yes, you we will congratulate.
Everybody is standing around you in a ring,
And see, now we’ll march,
bow, nod, curtsy, turn around,
dance for you with jumps and bounces,
wish from the heart all good things!
And same me then, what more do you want?
This year, when you’re celebrating the birth of a nation and all that it stands for, remember it’s also the birthday of Norway’s iconic Queen Sonja, who’s a bit of a revolutionary herself in her own country. Skål!