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The russefeiring ("russ celebration") is a traditional celebration for Norwegian high school students in their final spring semester. Students that take part in the celebrations are known as russ. The russefeiring traditionally starts on 1 May and ends on the 17th of May, the Norwegian national day. Participants wear coloured overalls, drive matching cars, vans and buses, and celebrate almost continually during this period. Drunkenness, and public disturbances are regularly linked to the celebration.
The word russ is inherited from the Danish word rus, which as an abbreviation of Latin rusticus ("rural"), in former times used to ridicule new students at a university. A more elaborate explanation claims the word comes from the Latin phrase cornua depositurus, which means "bound to put aside one's horns". This phrase is the name of an old Danish university acceptance ceremony, the name of which was eventually simplified to just the last syllable.
In Norway, an extra s has been added in order to make the word compliant with modern Norwegian spelling rules, which dictate that a short vowel should be indicated by a following double consonant. It is also to conveniently separate it from "rus", which in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish also means "intoxication".
The word russefeiring is composed of the two words "russ" (which refers to a participant in the russefeiring), and "feiring" (meaning "celebration"), and the connecting vowel e. It literally means "russ celebration".
In Sweden, a similar celebration is called Studenten ("the student"). In Finland students celebrate the start of the final test in a similar tradition called penkkarit. Also in Denmark graduation from high school (studentereksamen) is celebrated in similar ways called studenterfester, including the wearing of caps in different colours and driving open trucks, though the Danish term rus refers to first-year college students who have a separate tradition of rusture.
The modern Norwegian russefeiring dates back to 1905, when the red russ caps (russelue) were introduced to graduation celebrations as a sign of the imminent acceptance into the system of higher education. The caps were initially only used by boys, and were inspired by German students, who in 1904 wore red caps when they visited Norway. In 1916, blue caps were introduced at the Oslo Commerce School, a prestigious high school specializing in economics, in order to separate them from the common graduates. Later, celebrations were gradually extended, similarly coloured overalls (russedress) were added, and the caps were saved for the final day of celebrations.
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Nobel Prize laureate in literature, attempted to convey the spirit of the russ-celebration in the poem "Jeg velger meg April" ("I choose April"). The russ have figured in a number of poems and song lyrics, especially those from the early 20th century.
As time passed, students graduating from vocational courses were allowed to participate in the celebrations, and additional overall and cap colours were gradually introduced by some of the vocational graduates. The celebrations then became a general celebration of the end of upper secondary school (videregående skole).
In Norway, most pupils turn 18 just before the russefeiring. The age of 18 is both the age limit for buying alcohol and acquiring a driver's license. Therefore the growing festivities also led to increased alcohol consumption, and in the 70s the tradition of buying old cars, vans, buses and even lorries and painting them in the same colours as the overalls became common.
These cars would be extensively decorated, and serve as mobile homes and party venues for the russ during the russefeiring. They would be outfitted with tables, chairs, bunk beds, sound and lighting systems, and melodic horns. These vehicles were named russebiler (russ cars). Over the 80s it became fairly common to rip the cargo beds off lorries and build log cabins on the frames instead. However, due to safety issues this practice was banned during the early 90s. Also regulations were introduced that required every russ vehicle to have a designated non-russ driver. This, together with the no-tolerance policy on alcohol consumption by drivers introduced in the late 90s, greatly reduced the number of accidents involving russ vehicles.
Russ cars and buses would gather for impromptu partying on school grounds, parking lots, beaches and other suitable places. Sometimes up to several hundreds of cars and buses would gather in one place. Eventually, these events became organized by commercial interests, who then also took over responsibility for the security of the participants. Still russ gather their vehicles for impromptu partying, but in smaller numbers.
By the early 2000s authorities were once again worried about impact of the partying and alcohol consumption during the russefeiring. In an attempt to reduce the extent of the celebrations, some of the final exams in public schools were moved to early may. Traditionally, these had all been taking place in late May and early June. The idea was that forcing the pupils to prepare for exams instead of partying would reduce the extent of the problem. This had no noticeable effect, however, and resistance from pupils' organizations moved the exams back, with the argument that the only effect was to have pupils sacrifice grades for partying.
The festivities start on April 26. (On this date, russ are allowed to put on their overalls, board their vehicles, and officially become russ. From then on celebrations continue almost non-stop until the 17th of May (the national day). On this day the russ are awarded their caps, and participate in the traditional 17 May parades. In the meantime, there are a number of smaller and bigger events for russ to participate in. The dates of the biggest parties are usually the 1st where the students are 'christened' with personalized russ names which are written on their caps, and the 16th of May which is the second biggest party night, as these two dates are followed by national holidays (May day and Norwegian Constitution Day).
Russefeiring is a long standing tradition and a major cultural phenomenon in Norway. Apart from being a celebration of the imminent end of 12 or 13 years of compulsory schooling, it has also become a rite of passage into adulthood, and a farewell to classmates from the videregående skole (upper secondary school) who will now go their separate ways in search for jobs or higher education. It is therefore an extremely important period in the lives of most Norwegian adolescents.
In the period, there are several russetreff, translated russ meeting. At these events ten thousands of russ meet in an allocated area for one or more days. There are concerts, bus competitions in several circles (bus with the best sound systems, best lighting systems, best design, bus of the year and "Lord of the Rings"), and its sold beer and food.
While russefeiring is optional, there are few pupils who do not participate in any way, although the extent of involvement varies individually. However, there are pupils who, due to personal or religious reasons, do not consume alcohol, and therefore object to the nature of many of the celebrations, which contribute to its image as the "treukersfylla" ("the three week binge"). These pupils do not partake in common festivities to the same degree that other russ do and sometimes create their own events such as the "kristenruss" ("christian russ"), do.
There are several different types of russ differing in the colour of the caps and traditional uniforms most students carry during the entire russ period. The colour of the uniforms usually reflects what type of study the person is completing (see below). However, in some regions such as Stavanger, the colour is determined by the school. Typically in these areas, if the headmaster of the school was a blue russ, the students will also be blue regardless of what they are studying (vocational students will still usually be black russ).
It is common to appoint a russpresident, a party coordinator, a newspaper editor, some journalists, a contraceptive responsible person and some other funny titles to some russ.
The russepresident is responsible for about everything with the russ and to give an interview to a local newspaper and hold a speech on Constitution Day. The party coordinator organizes parties with different themes (for instance "What are you going to be when you're fully educated?", "bad taste" and "halloween"). The newspaper editor and the journalists make a russenewspaper. The contraceptive responsible gets some thousand condoms from the Red Cross to pass out to the russ (The Red Cross decided to give away condoms for free to russ because of the massive increase in clamydia, herpes and gonorrhea after May one year).
Ståkuka translates roughly to 'noisy week', it may also translate to 'the erect penis'. Ståkuka is the last week in April where there are different themes to dress up to. There is a different theme for each day and the typical themes are:
On army day it's very common for different schools or different coloured russ to "attack" each other with water balloons and water guns. Often younger students are taken hostage and dipped in water.
This is typically frowned upon by teachers and cleaning staff as windows tend to be broken and hallways tend to be soaking wet.
The knots on the string of the russ' cap are a wide variety of rewards signaling that the student has fulfilled a certain accomplishment during the russ period. They can be simple knots or tokens attached to the string. Lists of assignments and associated knots are publicized each year by russ committees at schools and communities. The knot often consists of an item representing the accomplishment. For instance, passing through the back seat of a car stopping on a red light (inspired by the television advertisement for the sweet Mentos), earns you a piece of wrapping from the sweet. The russ knot list was first introduced in the 1940s.
The knot rules are sometimes criticized because they can involve illegal acts, such as public nudity or public sexual intercourse, outright assault and possibly self-harming actions such as consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short span of time (earning a beer cap or wine cork). Other more benign tasks exist, such as putting a for sale sign on a police car, kissing a person of the same sex (pink feather), or spending the night at a teacher's house and making him/her breakfast in the morning, all without being noticed. Counting both national and local lists, there can be hundreds of different tasks that can be performed to gain knots, with huge varieties between districts and individual schools. Due to criticism in media, many of the russ knots are removed and replaced by other knots every year to decrease its severe impact on the students. Some of the previous knots have been physically dangerous when it involves drinking 24 bottles of beer within 24 hours, or place half a box of snus under ones lip for a certain period of time. This can lead to alcohol poisoning and severe brain damage. (http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article1015772.ece)
A few russ knot examples:
It's common for every school to have about 100 knots. If a russ does 50 or 70 of them he or she can choose to do three extra embarrassing or hard knots to become an eliteruss.
A few eliteruss knot examples:
In the older days russ often traveled around in an open lorry, either used as-is or with a self-made log cabin added to the cargo area. Today, groups of russ commonly go together to buy a russ van. In eastern Norway, such as the capital Oslo, the posh suburb of Bærum, and other surrounding cities and areas, russ often choose to have a full-scale bus. Russ vans are typically 15-20 year old Volkswagen Caravelles or Chevy Vans. The vehicle is painted in their respective russ colour, either by having it professionally sprayed or with regular wall paint. Decals and other decorations are common. Russ vehicles bought cheap have a reputation for being in terrible technical condition. Inexperienced and intoxicated drivers, and in some cases even highly flammable alcohol spills, have contributed to fatal traffic accidents and fires in these vehicles. The Norwegian police take part in a concerted effort to improve the situation. Russ who acquire a bus are required by law to hire a professional bus driver for the duration of the celebration, while van drivers might be an older sibling, friend, or a russ who chooses to abstain from alcohol.
In the russ vehicle, modern tradition requires a powerful audio equipment inside the vehicle, and on buses also on the roof (the largest systems allowed have forty speaker boxes which can generate over sixty thousand watts and be among the best sound systems in the world, rivaling those used by famous artists on concert tours). Some buses have had over 60 speaker boxes. Other accessories include sweaters and caps with the group's chosen logo and a bus song or slogan. It is also common to have some sort of theme for the interior and name/concept. Many buses have expensive theme interior, sometimes a bar, and plenty of flat-screens. A party light system is also common in buses.
These buses can be a large financial burden; contributions of up to $30,000 per member have occurred. In some cases, the teenagers parents invest most of the money needed for the buses. However, the average is between $2000 and $6000 per member. Including sponsors, the cost of a bus can reach over 200,000 Norwegian kroner.
While some are willing to spend very high sums of money during the russ festivities, mostly on the van/bus but also on clothes, effects, parties (there are special happenings for russ all over the country) and alcohol, most aim to buy a cheap van together with a group of friends. An old van can be passed on to the next generation of russ several times before it is discarded.
It is customary to spend substantial amounts of time working on the vehicle, finding a concept, refurbishing the inside, painting the outside and applying for funding during the weeks (and sometimes years) before the festivities start. Logos of sponsors are written onto the vehicle together with other decorations. Some undertake major rebuilds of the interior, like building a bar counter or beds within the bus. It is not uncommon to start planning the bus several years before the celebration. Everything in the russ celebration is taken care of by the russ themselves, except the bigger events. In these events you will find shops where they sell alcohol and food, international artist performing and the most important, "russekåringen", where you designate the different buses as the winner of either the best theme, interior design, sound system, light system, best live-bus, and the most prestigious; the bus of the year.
In 2004, an all-girls bus agreed to participate in a pornographic film to pay some of the costs for the bus; it was unclear whether the girls were only supposed to be extras or if two of the girls would also perform sex acts. After the deal became known, the girls withdrew from the agreement, but the pornographer claimed to have deals with others.
Most russ have personalized calling cards featuring their name, their photograph and a short slogan. These cards are swapped with other russ and handed out to children and family members. To many children, collecting russ cards is an important activity during the entire russ period, but especially May, culminating on May 17.
To finance some of the administrative costs, many high schools create russ newspapers containing fake news, a column written by the russ president, official knot rules for the specific school, and other content, mostly humorous. The most important feature of a russ newspaper, however, is a section that presents every class and every student with a photograph and a personalized biography, typically written by friends in a jocular and satirical style. The class may also write a similar entry on their main teacher; the teacher, in turn, writes about their class. The Russ' newspaper is written and published by Russ' executive board (Russens Hovedstyre).
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