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 Our forebears looked at it differently: their main historical reference points were instead important events: it happened 7 winters after King Olav died.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 Norwegian landscape is wild and beautiful. And it is a lot more than just fjords and mountains.
Do you know the name of Norway’s capital city? Test yourself, friends, and family in this 10 multiple-choice questions quiz vol. 1. See the correct answer below each photo.
Whether it be on a rainy day - or a beautiful summer’s day like this one - the coastal paths take us through some pleasing stretches of Norwegian scenery.
In olden Norway, the farm-animals were sent off to the mountains and forests all summer. With them came a herder to guard them, and a maid to turn their milk into cheese and butter.
Some claim that porridge is the oldest hot dish in the Norwegian diet. Was it to our ancestors what bread is to the modern family of today?
With this old photograph in my hand I have set myself a task: how much information can I find in Norwegian online archives based on what the photo tells me?
For thousands of years, milk from the domesticated animals has had a dominant position in the Norwegian diet. People used milk from the cow, the reindeer, the sheep and the goat.
When I was a boy, it was the workhorse that pulled the heaviest weight in agricultural life. And this had been the reality for as long as anyone could remember.
The Fjord horse is one of today’s oldest and purest horse breeds. Its historical habitat is Norway's western coast, with its deep fjords and steep mountainsides.
When there were no makeshift or permanent dwellings nearby, the Sami hunters and herders sometimes slept under the open sky.
The most significant sections of Norwegian productive soil can be found in the counties of Trøndelag, Hedmark, Oppland and Rogaland.
In 1935, Aslaug Engnæs published a guidance book on how to milk the cow.
For more than a thousand years, Norwegian farmers sent their livestock to feed in the forests and the mountains. Today, this way of life has almost disappeared.
Skodje sogelag and Louis Giske wrote the history of the two Sortehaug farms and its inhabitants back in 1986.
In a cold country like Norway, warm clothing is essential. This is a refined and old version of a woollen sweater from the district of Setesdal.
This beautiful oil painting by Johan Christian Dahl says a lot about generations of Norwegians - and the landscape and the skills they knew.
Lystring is a Norwegian verb that means catching fish or other water creatures in the dark, using a fire torch to attract the fish and a multi-pronged spear.
Kantslått is a Norwegian noun that means (1) the grass that is cut along the edges of a field, a road, etc. or (2) the actual process of cutting this grass. Traditionally, the grass was used as animal fodder.
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.
During the AD 1970s, both an increased female participation in the labour market, and the green movement, were causes firmly added to the agenda. There was a heightened focus on maternity leave, access to kindergarten, and maternity benefits.
The horse no longer roams wild in the Norwegian landscape. But it still has an important place in the Norwegian psyche.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history