Homestead | moving into the barn during summer | Norway

The first half of the 1900s was a time of enormous change in Norwegian society. It was then that a young boy experienced a peculiar family custom.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Woman milking a cow in an oldfashioned cowshed. Hadeland, Oppland, Norway in 1947-48. | Photo: Leif Ørnelund - OB.Ø51/1346 digitaltmuseum.no - CC BY-SA.
Woman milking a cow in an oldfashioned cowshed. Hadeland, Oppland, Norway in 1947-48. | Photo: Leif Ørnelund - Oslo Museum cc by-sa.

Living in the modern world

All through the winter, the young boy lived with his parents in a contemporary setting. They had a modern house, with an electrical stove, a radio, and a car.

Off to spend summer with the grandparents

When his school closed for the summer, he set off to spend quality time with his grandparents. They had a smallholding in Østerdalen, a valley in the south-eastern region of Norway. All through summer, he ran high and low, all barefoot and happy. And every year, he witnessed a peculiar ritual taking place.

Scrubbing the barn clean

As soon as the farm-animals were sent off to the summer pasture farm in the mountains, normally sometime in June, his grandparents scrubbed and cleaned the barn’s cowshed and sheep pens from top to bottom. Next, they whitened the ceiling and the upper part of the walls with chalk.

Moving into the barn

When the barn was as clean as it possibly could be, it was time to move the beds from the main house, their winter home, and put them into the empty stalls and pens. A long wooden table and benches to sit on followed suit. The boy’s grandmother sat at one end of the table, his grandfather at the other, and the boy and his many cousins on the benches in between. In this particular barn, there was also a fireplace where they prepared the food.

All until the autumn came

All through summer, they lived like this. Only when the animals returned in the autumn, and the children went back to their parents and to school, the grandparents scrubbed their way back into the main house for the winter.

A celebration of summer

When telling his story as a grown man, the boy was quite particular about the reason for this odd custom. Moving out of the regular home and into the barn was like going on a holiday, a change from the daily routines during the winter. It was a celebration of summer.

But also a chance to clean and wash

It was also an opportunity to give the two abodes a thorough wash. In the old farming society, taking care of your animals, buildings, and tools were both a vital necessity and a matter of considerable pride.

Moving out of the main house

The custom of moving out of the main house during the summer months was a regular practice across many parts of Scandinavia; a practice that may have stretched back for more than a thousand years. However, moving into the barn, like this family did, was probably an exception. Often, people moved into a specific summer cottage, the cook-house, or other out-buildings on the farm.

Today people go to their cabins

Today, there are still remnants of this old way of life. Many modern-day Norwegians have cottages by the sea or in the mountains and forests – a hytte. They flock there during the holidays, particularly for Easter and during the short and intense summer. For all generations, a sense of the old Norway still lingers in people’s minds, fuelled by childhood memories and stories told to them by parents and grandparents.

Never without a fireplace

Many of today’s cottages have all the mod cons required in this day and age. But equally many are just simple abodes, echoing the past. What you will rarely find is a cottage without a fireplace, the all-important and ancient fireplace. A link to the early Norwegians who came to this fascinating landscape after the last ice-age – some 10-15,000 years ago.

Main source: «Den norske byggeskikken» by Arne Lie Christensen – Pax Forlag 1995

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