Anthropology: The Russ Culture and Traditional Celebration of High School Seniors in Norway

Group of russ walking down the street during a parade.
Image found on Globuzzer via

Russ (short for russefeiring) is a big deal in Norway. Russefeiring is a traditional celebration for senior high school students in their final spring semester in Norway. Every year, high school seniors celebrate russefeiring. A month-long celebration centered on drinking, party buses, and wild challenges. The period of russefeiring takes place between the end of April till 17th May.

As most students turn 18 around that time, the celebration started becoming more and more high-spirited over the years. The age of 18 is both the legal drinking age and the legal age of getting a driver’s license in Norway. Therefore, the growing festivities have led to increased alcohol consumption.

Here’s what you need to know about russ.

A Brief History of Russefeiring

A group of russ walking, holding a sign and wearing grocery bags on top of their russebukse (overalls).
Image found on Laangedalsposten via

Norwegian russefeiring dates back to 1905. Russelue (the red hat) was used as a sign of acceptance into higher education. As well as marking the journey to adulthood. The caps were inspired by students from Germany, who in 1904 wore red caps when they visited Norway. In 1916, blue hats were introduced at a prestigious high school for students studying economics, in order to separate them from the other graduates. Later, celebrations were gradually extended, similarly, russedress (colored overalls) were added, and the hats were saved for the final day of celebrations.

As time passed, students graduating from other courses were also allowed to participate in the celebrations, and additional overall and cap colors were gradually introduced by some of the other graduates. The celebrations then became a general celebration of the end of high school.

Russ Clothes

Russ is immediately recognizable by their red and blue russebukse, overalls. The students wear their russelue (hats) and russebukse (overalls) from end-April till 17th May. The overalls are purchased from the official website and are often personalized by russ (it’s also a term for a Norwegian high school senior celebrating russ).

5 girls posing together for picture, wearing russebukse (overalls) and russelue (hats).
Image found on Trollsheims Porten via

Russelue (the hat) has been a crucial part of the russeanntrekk (the outfit of the russ) since 1905, when they were used in graduation ceremonies to represent students’ acceptance into universities. More and more russ are wearing hoodies which have both their own name, and the name and logo of their group, printed on them.

The original color of the russebukse is red. It has been first used in 1905 on russelue (the red hat). The red color symbolized russ until 1916 when a new russ color saw the light of day.

The Meaning of the Colors

Red russ is what is most normal and what most russ choose to be. If you had a red color, you went to general or today’s study specialization and gained general study competence. Whether it is through study specialization, media, and communication, music, dance and drama.

A group of russ posing in front of their russevan (van).
Image found on Laagendalsposten via

The first blue russ hats were used by students in 1916. The blue color was to represent the students who took the economics line in high school. Blue russ also gained general study qualifications but went on to study economics. As more schools eventually followed the trend, the different colors became a symbol of what the russ were studying.

The black russ symbolize the students who went to vocational fields of study. While green russ were students who studied agriculture and nature and who previously went under the black russ category. In recent years, another color that was created was purple. This color should represent students who had completed the design line in high school.

The Choice of Russebukse

High school seniors posing for a picture in their russedress (overalls).
image found on Culture Trip via

Today, there is no doubt that the two colors that dominate among the russ are blue and red. Today, very few russ use black, green and purple colors. Although there are still most red russ, there is no doubt that the blue russ have flourished in recent years. Red russ is what is most normal and what most russ choose to be. As the different colors symbolized different directions within the studies, several colors were used.

Previously, the colors of the russ were to symbolize the different fields of study. Today’s russ does not have the same relationship to these colors, which contributes to many people choosing colors regardless of the study. Today’s russ can, for example, choose to be blue russ even if they go to a school that for many years is considered to be red and thus not a school with a financial line. This is because today’s russ chooses colors on completely different backgrounds from the past. Today, it is not uncommon to choose a color according to what one thought looks best or ‘fits the group best’. At the same time, there is no doubt that red russ and blue russ dominate all over the country.

Russ Cards

A red card, with a funny picture of a russ with quote.
Image found on Hadeland via

Russ carries something similar to business cards which they call russekort. These have a picture and the name of the russtogether with printed slogans, kind of similar to yearbook quotes. Cards might be exchanged between the russ themselves, given to family members or children (many of whom collect russekort each year).

Russ Bus

Some of the russ buy a bus or van together with their friends. Some busses are rigged with speakers, lighting, and even mini dance floors, and they can cost up to $350,000. The average russebuss is used by 15 to 25 students and costs around $116,000. The buses have names and themes and are equipped with such strong speakers and lighting that they’re practically nightclubs on wheels.

A group of russ sitting on top go their russebus (bus).
Image found on Camilla Blog via

As all this ends up being very expensive, groups of students get together and plan on how they will be able to afford everything very early on. Most often those who are thinking of being russ, start planning as early as freshmen year in high school. They apply for funding from sponsors, whose logos will then appear on the bus. Some of them create high school russ newspapers that are mostly satirical and contain the official knot rules for the school. There are meetings, preparations, strategies, planning. There are also competitions between groups about who has the best bus.

Socializing and Partying

High school seniors partying in their russedress (overalls)
Image found on Norway Today via

Most of the month’s parties take place in and around the buses, as hired drivers shuttle teens around and to various festivals. When you drive around partying inside of the bus, stopping just for some fresh air now and then, you call it ‘å rulle’ (rolling). The students hop on board the bus and head on to various festivals and russetreff (russ meeting places).

It is common to invite others that the students who own the bus to “rulle”. Busses with only boys invite girls over and the opposite. Sometimes just other friends. Many young teenagers are longing to join such parties, and try to get themselves invited.

More and more students do not want to spend a lot of money on a bus for such a short period and decide to walk or bike instead. Many of these russ pay to join a bus a few times instead.

One of the biggest music festivals still held, is the one at the theme park Kongeparken, almost an hour drive outside the city of Stavanger on the west coast of Norway. This park is transformed into a three-day concert venue, and roughly 13,500 teens showed up at the venue each year.

Challenges and Dares

Russeknuter is something you earn by completing dares from the russknutelisten: originally introduced in the 40s, the list is different for every school. Students earn knuter through the dares are trinkets that are tied to the russelue (hat), or russeknuter (knots). Mostly meant for good fun. The dares on the list may have students wearing loaves of bread on their feet for a whole day. Or barking at people at the supermarket.

Many dares are simply absurd. Like wearing bread on your feet all day or finishing a Big Mac in two bites. Many of the knots encourage drinking, like the dare to have 24 drinks in a single day, or to drink a beer while peeing. Another example is that you’d get a tampon to tie to the cap if you chug a beer with two tampons in your mouth.

Two senior high students wearing bread as shoes.
Image found on Andre Frankrike bloggers via

Racy Dares

But in the last decade or so, knot dares are increasingly becoming racy, including the consumption of alarming amounts of alcohol (24 drinks in a day) or nudity and sex in public places.  You will receive a pen if you have safe sex in the school area. Or a sheriff star if you kiss a policeman or woman. You can tie a picture of the royal family to your russelue if you slide down the stairs in the park outside the castle, and there is something for running around naked in public areas too. Once a knot challenge is completed the students tie trinkets to their caps that represent each “knot”. So, if you see students with a tampon tie to the cap, that means they have chug a beer with two tampons in their mouth.

A red russelue (hat) with tied trinkets.
Image found on NRK via

After the russ received criticism for being too wild, some new dares were invented to encourage teens to make good choices. Such as getting tested for STDs or giving food to a homeless person.

End of Russefeiring

Group of russ walking in the 17th May parade.
Image found on Sunnmørsposten via

Everything finally comes to an end on May 17, Norwegian constitution day. The partying and dares can take a toll on Norwegian teens. But everything comes to an end on May 17th, a national holiday celebrating the signing of the Norwegian Constitution. Norwegians celebrate the day with the traditional children`s parades. Teens who are russ have parades of their own. Or they are a part of the general parade, where they show their vehicles and themselves to everyone watching.

This celebration ends a couple of days before the final exams for the seniors. Because of that, some high schools in Norway don’t allow for any russfeiring to take place during school hours. While a handful of high schools allow russfeiring with some restrictions.

The Impact of Global Pandemic

A couple of high school seniors in red russedress (overalls) putting antibacterial gel on their hands.
Image found on Hamar Arbeiderbald via

During Covid-19 pandemic both in 2020 and 2021, russ was postponed. Organizers of the events are currently planning on the russefeiring to take place in the summer, after the graduation, also because the Norwegian government is planning by then to end the current ban on large gatherings.

The majority of russ wanted a refund for their tickets to Kongerparken and russebus (bus), thinking that they would not have time to enjoy it later in the year when they would already be off studying in university or in the military. This was not something that the organizers of the Kongeparken event wanted. Instead, they let the russ know that they would not get a refund, but rather that they would get a discount on tickets for another music festival. It did not take long for russ to create lawsuits against the event organizers. The organizers had no other choice, but to give russ a refund.

The pandemic marks the first time, russ were able to do the dares and challenges online, in line with Norwegian social distancing rules.

In Conclusion

Boys sitting on top of their russevan (van).
Image found on KoRus via

Ultimately, russefeiring is optional. There are some students who, for personal or religious reasons, feel like it’s not for them. The russ period has also become known as treukersfylla (the three-week binge). Some groups of students choose to partake in more sober versions of it instead. Much of the celebration is centered around party buses or vans. But as far as the largest part of the teenage population in Norway is concerned, from the end of April to mid-May, it’s their right to party.

If you are interested, you can watch Americans in a Norwegian reality TV show about Americans coming to Norway, Alt for Norge. The clip shows the American do some of the russ challenges while wearing russedress (overalls).

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