Primstav | a calendar-stick was a must on the old farm | Norway

A primstav is an old wooden calendar-stick, marking the days of the year and important events. It splits the year into two equal halves: summer and winter.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
A primstav - a calendar stick. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfeldt - Norsk Folkemuseum cc by-sa.
A primstav - a calendar stick. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfeldt - Norsk Folkemuseum cc by-sa.

Each year followed the same pattern

Our ancestors saw the structure of each new year as a repeat of the one before. The old Norwegian calendar stick – the primstav – laid out the days and the key events of the year. The annual cycle was forever the same, generation after generation.

The oldest primstav found in Norway dates back to the mid-1400s, but the historians believe the tool goes back even further.

Mother Nature dictated the rhythm

One key purpose of the calendar-stick was to guide people through their working year. It helped them keep track of what to do and when. It was Mother Nature who dictated the annual rhythm and the tasks.

The calendar of the Catholic Church

The calendar-stick also included the annual calendar of the Catholic Church. Christianity came to Norway around the turn of the second millennium AC.

A notch for each day

The primstav is usually a flat, sword-shaped piece of wood. The calendar of the summer months is carved on one side, and the winter months on the other: one notch for each day.

Added symbols

In addition to the 365 days, other carved-in symbols mark special events, religious or otherwise, or the starting point of a particular process in the working year. One is the haymaking period – høyonna – which, according to tradition, starts on the feast of Saint Knut, on 10 July.

Summer and winter

Summer started on 14 April, with midsummer on 14 July – and winter on 14 October, with midwinter on 14 January (in some sources listed as 12 January).

People focussed on events rather than the year

Today, our primary reference point when we talk about history is the year number: it was in the year 1086 AD that it happened. Our forebears looked at it differently: their main historical reference points were instead important events: it happened 7 winters after King Olav died.

Replaced by the almanac

With time, the printed almanac replaced the old primstav. The first Norwegian almanac came in 1644, printed and published by Tyge Nielssøn. It had 48 pages. But many continued to use the primstav for at least two centuries still.

The Norwegians became Protestants in 1536

The Norwegians abandoned the Catholic Church in 1536, when they joined the Protestant movement. But the old Catholic feast days stayed on as markers in people’s consciousness, and on the all-important calendar-stick and in the almanac. The modern-day calendars include some of these feast days even today, nearly 500 years later.

Our most recent posts

My Norwegian heritage

After the Black Death, it took the Norwegian communities centuries to recover. And soon, the country also lost its independence.
The rose painted chests of Norway - a treasure that will live for centuries to come.
Once upon a time in the distant past, imagine yourself sitting in a small boat, facing this mighty gateway into the bowels of the land.
The hour of twilight is when the daylight starts to disappear – before it is completely dark. In the old Norwegian farming society, this was a time for rest.
Folklore and old folk tales often depict The Black Death in the shape of an ashen-faced old woman. Her name was Pesta.
Here is a collection of some wonderful vintage photos, showing a handful of Norwegians and their lives.
The majestic Norwegian mountains can be treacherous - and they steal human lives every year. Study the Norwegian mountain code - and be prepared for your next journey.
Skigard is a Norwegian noun that means wooden fence. It is made of split tree trunks, using simple tools. Fence making and mending was a task for early summer.
A kipe is a tall, woven basket, often made of twigs from the birch tree. It was carried on the back, and typically used when carrying loads in a landscape full of steep fields and paths.
There are many types of cheese slicers, but Norwegian furniture maker Thor Bjørklund invented the Norwegian version in 1925.
When the industrial revolution brought machinery to the Norwegian farms, it didn't just change the old working methods, it also changed the layout and look of the farmland.
Watch some lovely vintage photos of mankinds's many good friends.
When there were no makeshift or permanent dwellings nearby, the Sami hunters and herders sometimes slept under the open sky.
Norway’s full independence came in AD 1905, and was the culmination of a process that had lasted for several decades.
The word ski comes from the Old Norse language, with the meaning cleft wood. The old Norwegians were master hunters, and have been skiing for over 5000 years.
With the birth of the new Norwegian national state in 1814, came big ideas. And one of them was to establish better transportation systems.
In 1997, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway came to the Norwegian Sami Assembly with an essential and overdue apology.
On the historical Norwegian farm, winter feed for the domesticated animals was a precious resource. Sometimes it was harvested and temporarily stored far away from the farm.
Åre is a Norwegian noun that means an open fireplace, placed on the floor in the middle of a room. The smoke goes up and out through a vent in the roof - the ljore.
After a troubled ten-year courtship, the current King Harald V of Norway finally got to marry his Miss Sonja Haraldsen on the 29th of August 1968.
The traditional Sami houses, the goahti, were in use until well into our own time. Anders Larsen tells us how he remembers them from the coastal Sami communities in northern Norway.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history