16. Jul 2018

Olsok er en av våre eldste tradisjoner, og i Trøndelag tar de det virkelig på alvor

Little did Olav Haraldsson know, when he fell at Stiklestad on 29 July in the year 1030, that his death would have such inconceivable consequences and effects that extend into the modern era.

Now, nearly 1,000 years after he got the name, Saint Olav, and Norway became regarded for the first time as a Christian nation, this event is celebrated all across Trøndelag.

The Olav tradition and the Olsok celebration lives on all over the Nordic region and in parts of Europe today – but it’s still something very special here where the story originated.

Olsok for everyone

The region is buzzing with people and festivity in the time before, during and after the Olsok weekend in the end of July.

It doesn’t really matter whether you believe that St. Olav was a barbarian or a saviour, because the past, present and future intersect at the festivals in Trøndelag.

The region is steeped in historical sites, myths, legends and cultural heritage, and it is the perfect starting point for experiences that tickle all the senses. At the same time as one is exploring the relevant issues and challenges of the time in which we live.

The St. Olav Festival is a good example of this. The church and cultural festival have been held since 1963 in the area around Nidaros Cathedral.

During the Olsok weekend and the subsequent week, there are 170,000 people from all over the world who visit the festival, which is based on the Olsok celebration and the story of St. Olav’s path to sainthood.

Opening the national shrine

Aerial acrobatics in the Nidaros Cathedral.

“We carry on the Vigil tradition from the middle ages whereby throughout the entire period of 28 to 29 July, one welcomes people who have walked together to Northern Europe’s premier pilgrimage destination – Trondheim. This is the only day of the year on which Norway’s national shrine, Nidaros Cathedral, is open to absolutely everyone! This year we’re holding a yoga event under the spectacular rose window. We have a Historical Market where you can buy goods made by craftsmen who work using medieval methods. Here, people can also try working at the smithy, be a sculptor or a glass blower. People of all ages, faiths and backgrounds can come together here,” says festival director, Petter Myhr.


“We’re a festival that aims to expand people’s perception of the world. We seek to challenge and encourage reflection in the intersection between faith communities. In the square on the West Front outside Nidaros Cathedral, we invite guests from all over the world starting on the first Saturday of the Olsok celebration to discuss relevant and contemporary themes. Last year, we posed such questions as: Is St. Olav an idol for our era? Or, does the Olav tradition represent an unfortunate mix of religion and power?”

This year, the festival theme was “the human body”, where Norwegian performers such as Harald Eia, Kristopher Schau, Trond Viggo Torgersen, Helsesista and Pepper the robot (!) will come to discuss topics like what happens when we die, can we forgive the Church for its fixation on the human body and why are we ashamed of our body?

Artists such as Grace Jones, Lars Winnerbäck, Sondre Justad, Dionne Warwick, Dagny and blues legend Bonnie Raitt will be on the festival’s main stage – the idyllic Borggården courtyard, right outside of Nidaros Cathedral.

From seaweed to song

At the same time as the St. Olav Festival gets into full swing, the Trøndersk Food Festival starts on 2 August and is Norway’s largest local food festival. From the main square at Torvet up to Nidaros Cathedral, you can be served food from the entire Trøndelag region. The food products you will encounter here include delicacies made of seaweed and kelp, klippfisk (salted and dried fish), tørrfisk (dried fish), wild deer meat, cured meats, lefser (traditional Norwegian thin pastry), cheeses, jellies and organic soft drinks.

All sorts of flavours from Trøndelag. Photo: Wil Lee-Wright

“Trøndelag has in recent years truly established itself as the country’s leading region for local and short-travelled foods. We have several hundred years of traditions as the basis. Around the time of Olsok, fruits and berries are also readily available in local woods and gardens – get out and pick! There is plenty of pristine natural terrain in Trøndelag. Many Norwegians associate the Olsok celebration with rømmegrøt (porridge made with sour cream) and cured meats. In the old days, this was called “slåttgrøt” because many people would also begin the harvest during Olsok weekend! In Trøndelag, you will often find that “sodd” (soup made with meat and grain or cabbage) and “fårikål” (mutton and cabbage stew) is being served in many homes. The region’s rich fishing traditions appear in the form of scallops and mussels – often collected directly from the fjord and hand-picked by divers on the same day,” says Audun Hoem Musinoi Hagen, food reviewer and writer for “Smakspolitiet” (i.e. The Taste Police) in the Adresseavisen newspaper.

Gourmet boom

Rich traditions do not hinder Trondheim from rising up as Norway’s most intriguing place for new and innovative restaurants. Credo, Fagn, Bula and Røst are just a few of the ones who have established themselves at a superior level.

“Ten years ago, we had only one restaurant in the top segment. Today we’re approaching ten dining spots, which can compete with the very best down on the continent. Out toward the open sea on Stokkøya Island, you also have a fantastic beach bar serving high-quality cuisine. There, you can also light an Olsok bonfire after your swim,” Hagen points out.

The Brewery Festival is also held during the weekend of 2 – 4 August.

“Never before have there been so many people brewing beer in Trøndelag, as there are now. Here, you will find numerous breweries that have made their mark, both locally and nationally, through their brewing achievements. Inderøy Farm Brewery, Røros Brewery, and Austmann in Trondheim; Munkeby beer from Levanger; and Egge Brewery in Steinkjer are but a few of them,” says Hagen.

The play of all plays

It wouldn’t be Olsok without the “Spelet” performance at Stiklestad! Ever since 1954, the story about the days before Olav Haraldsson was killed and his fall has been presented at Stiklestad in Nord-Trøndelag.

The musical is constantly being modernised with new approaches and new directors. Since 2000, a festival associated with the performance has also been developed, which includes concerts and discussions, and around 50,000 visitors attend the event every Olsok.

Performance for young and old at Stiklestad.

This year, the festival will focus more on the resistance Olav encountered when he set out to Christianise Norway. “In the footsteps of the Peasant Army ” is a brand new offering and a new hiking tour intended to give participants an understanding of the history of those who fought against the king.

“This provides a different angle on the site’s origin. The Peasant Army made up the resistance against Olav, and it is said that it was several times the size of the king’s army. It consisted mainly of coastal chiefs along with inland chiefs and their followers who did not want Olav to amass more power in Norway. We will be walking along the old King’s Route, where it is believed that the army of the resistance made their way to the battle of Stiklestad – a 13-kilometre-long walk with a lot of storytelling,” says Arnstein Indahl, a guide at Stiklestad.

The Olsok celebration is full of diversity!

Some people still make the trek out of religious conviction in line with the traditional pilgrimage, but according to Indahl, a growing number are doing it for other reasons.

“The Olsok celebration of today is full of diversity! Before, it was mostly an ecclesiastical and Catholic event, but the Spelet performance has added a new dimension to the Olsok celebration. Many people are involved to be part the community, and to meet people and socialise. Some are there to experience nature, while others want to learn about the history of it all. Most people enjoy sharing experiences of this kind with others because it gives them a sense of well-being and togetherness.”

Behind the altar in Stiklestad Church is the Olav Stone – the rock many people believe Olav was leaning against at the moment of his death.

“Some historians view this as a Disney-like fairy tale, but it’s up to each individual visitor to make up their own mind. There are many visitors each year who come solely to get a glimpse of the stone,” says Indahl.

A new kind of festival

Volunteering and the festival tradition are strong in Trøndelag. And there are constantly new offerings popping up. HEIM is a recently started festival in Hasselvika, which is held at the beginning of the Olsok weekend. Two days with a full concert program on two stages followed by a club mood inside the mountain in the defunct military camp at Fort Hysnes.

Future festival site. Beautiful, isn’t it?

“We want to have a focus on the environment and farming, and will therefore offer lectures, tours and different activities in various parts of the local area, all of which are related to the farm, the fjord and the surrounding area. Food and beverages will primarily come from exciting local restaurants in both Trondheim and Rissa,” says the festival director, Eirik Brevik.

HEIM’s goal is to draw people from all over the country to a festival where other things are highlighted in addition to the music.

“Gut a fish, milk a cow and go out in a boat! We want to connect the festival to the local history in the area where popular culture intersects with the coastal heritage. We mix new and old culture in a festival that is intended to have some depth and the absolute minimum impact on the environment. The concerts will be held in the barn and in a field. On the program are upcoming artists such as Daniel Kvammen, Kaja Gunnufsen, Wonder the Boy and Death By Unga Bunga, while you can also take part in sailing lessons, learn how to make organic deodorant and pick ‘weeds’ that can be used to make delicious food. All this is happening while cows, horses, goats, chickens and pigs trudge around at your feet.”