Today on July 28th, the eve of Saint Olav’s day, the national feast of the Faroe Islands is celebrated with the traditional boat race in the harbour of Tórshavn. For a couple of days at the hight of summer the beautiful Faroese flag is flown everywhere and by everyone on the 18 isles in the North Atlantic.
July 29th is the feast day of Saint Olav, king of Norway. He was killed in the battle of Stiklestad on that date in the year 1030 and was canonized shortly after. Saint Olav’s shrine in the cathedral of Nidaros in Trondheim, Norway attracted large numbers of pilgrims in the middle ages. His feast day is still celebrated by catholics and protestants in Norway and elsewhere.
The Faroe Islands were part of the Norwegian Realm. Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel Norway entered into union with Sweden. Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained with Denmark. The two latter countries are still part of the Danish Realm. Many Faroe Islanders want their home rule replaced with full independence.
The flag of the Faroe Islands was designed and hoisted for the first time in 1919. Since April 25th, 1940 the use of it is official. The flag’s name in Faroese is Merkið, meaning ‘the flag’ or ‘the mark’. It was other Nordic cross flags like the flag of Norway and the flag of Denmark, Dannebrog, which inspired the designer Jens Oliver Lisberg.
On the Faroe Islands the feast of Saint Olav, Ólavsøka, lasts for several days with lots of music, flags and festivities, a service in the cathedral of Tórshavn and the official opening of parliament. It is common for Faroese children to sing or play an instrument and faith plays an important role in society as do sporting traditions which go back as far as Viking times and spark strong local pride and competitiveness.
On July 28th, the evening before Saint Olav’s day, one of the annual national boat races takes place in Tórshavn. Boys and girls, men and women from all over the islands compete in traditional wooden boats in classes of 5, 6, 8 and 10 rowers. Winning an Ólavsøka first price is of course very prestigious as a sign of excellence in strength and team work.
Both on the 28th and the 29th there is a procession in Tórshavn. Children, sports associations, choirs, marching bands, people riding horses, elected officials and clergy, all take part in these processions. On the second day it is the members of the Faroese parliament, Løgtingið, who walk in procession between the cathedral and the parliament house, Tinghúsið.
Except maybe for the abundance of people wearing traditional costumes the one common feature in all these events are the hundreds of white-blue-red Faroese flags in the streets and on the harbour quays.
Happy Saint Olav’s feast! Góða Ólavsøku!