Faredag | notice day for farmhands – twice a year | Norway

In the old farming society, nature dictated the flow of the working year. And farmworkers could only leave their jobs on 2 specific days during the year.
A workman's moving day. Oil painting by Marcus Grønvold. Belonged to Henrik Ibsen. | Photo: Erik Thallaug - Ibsenmuseet cc by-sa.
By LA Dahlmann

The flow of the seasons

Today, we think of the year in terms of 4 main seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. But the old Norwegian calendar divided the year into two equal halves: summer and winter.

14 April and 14 October

The summer started on 14 April, on what the old Norwegians called sommermål, sommerdag, or sommernatt. The first day of winter was 14 October, called vintermål, vinterdag, or vinternatt.

Utilising the summer was crucial

The Norwegian winters are dark and cold, with the ground often frozen and covered with snow. Therefore, the farmers had to sow, gather, and harvest enough food during an intense summer, to tide both people and farm-animals over the winter.

Needed predictable labour

The old farming methods were labour intensive, and the farmer could not risk losing any hired hands when he needed them most. This explains why the old laws only allowed farm labourers to leave their posts on either the first day of summer, or the first day of winter – on 14 April or 14 October.

Sommermål and vintermål = faredag

Faredag is the term people used when referring to these 2 days. You could not leave your position in the time in between.

8 weeks’ notice

According to King Christian 5’s Norwegian Code of 1687, a farm labourer had to give 8 weeks’ notice, ahead of the faredag. If not, he had to stay on for another 6 months.

If the employer caused trouble

If the labourer feared that his employer would cause trouble and force him to stay, the law stipulated a solution: he had to make his intentions known in the presence of others. For example, when attending church on Sunday.

Tenant farmers left on 14 April

For tenant farmers or cotters – leilendinger or husmenn – the faredag was 14 April. This makes perfect sense, as the new tenant then was allowed a full growing season on the new property. If not, how would he be able to provide for himself and his family over the coming winter?

14 April is in use even today

14 April is the handover-day used in farm tenant agreements even today. Either the farm’s owner or the tenant farmer – gårdens eier or the forpakter – must actively terminate the lease 1 year prior to the contractual faredag. Even when the contract clearly stipulates when the contract ends. If they fail to do so, the contract is automatically extended 1 year at a time.