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 Our forebears looked at it differently: their main historical reference points were instead important events: it happened 7 winters after King Olav died.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

The traditional Norwegians are drawn to their cabins, whether it be in the mountains, in the forest, or by the sea. Some would say that they are a people obsessed.
Old objects tell stories, silent stories about a time gone by.
At Easter in 1906, renowned Norwegian photographer Anders Beer Wilse took this series of photos on a trip with a group of friends.
Ljå is a Norwegian noun that means a scythe - an old agricultural cutting-tool used when mowing the grass to make hay, or when harvesting the grain crops.
In the year AD 1537, King Christian 3 of Denmark-Norway embraced the Lutheran Reformation, and the Norwegians went from being Catholics to Protestants. The king confiscated the Catholic Church’s considerable wealth, a welcomed addition to the royal coffers. Norway more or less ceased to exist as a sovereign state and became a province under Denmark.
From the early 1800s and well into the 1900s, Norway was a significant exporter of natural ice. But how did they prevent the ice from melting?
With Christmas comes the turning of the sun, and the promise of a new year. Enjoy these traditional and vintage Norwegian Christmas cards - 24 in all.
Norway is a land of water, with almost 1 million lakes and ponds of all sizes. Join us in exploring the 5 largest of her lakes, and some more Norway facts.
In 1942, Hans Hyldbakk wrote the history of the local cotter's holdings in Surnadal, Nordmøre, Norway. The book was updated in 1966.
This is our second video-slideshow with vintage photos of the Norwegian farm horse. Enjoy!
Folklore and old folk tales often depict The Black Death in the shape of an ashen-faced old woman. Her name was Pesta.
Kløvhest is a Norwegian noun that means packhorse. Well into our own time, the Norwegians used horses to help transport goods through a challenging landscape.
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.
A kjenge is a drinking bowl used in the old Norwegian farming society – usually with two handles - carved and hollowed out from one piece of wood.
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.
The old Norwegian farming society was a self-sufficient and balanced world. Coins and notes were all but an alien concept.
The Black Death – mother of all plagues - ravaged humankind in the mid-1300s. A Norwegian scholar takes us through the lead up to the disaster.
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.
Mead and beer are both alcoholic drinks known from Norwegian history. The Norwegians call them «mjød» and «øl». But do you know the difference between the two?
In this selection of beautiful hand-coloured lantern slides from around 1900, we visit the city of Bergen - and other west coast destinations. Enjoy!
The Norwegians rarely allow alien species into their fauna. With one notable exception, the muskox - first welcomed in from Greenland in 1924.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history