Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marking Time

This week, Norwegians celebrated Sankthansaften, or St. Hans Eve, on June 23. Also known as Jonsok, or "John's wake," the day was originally a pre-Christian celebration of midsummer, marked by feasting and dancing around bonfires. With the coming of Christianity in the 11th century, the day was rededicated to St. John the Baptist (aka St. Hans) and the church required attending mass on this day.

"If you weren't in church on saints' days, you were fined," says Kathleen Stokker, professor of Norwegian at Luther College, in a Viking magazine interview. "So it was important to know when they were."

Norwegians kept track of the days by using a calendar stick called a primstav. Each day was represented by a notch on the stick and the year was divided into two halves, a winter side and a summer side. Symbols were carved into the calendar as a reminder of important dates. For example, the symbol for St. Hans was an hourglass or the sun.

While medieval Norwegians embraced their newer Christian practices, they also hung on to their traditional folk culture and continued to celebrate Jonsok the night before with bonfires and dancing.

For more information on primstavs, including directions on how to make your own more modern version, check out the July issue of Viking magazine!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-58.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Signe Karin.

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