The old farming society followed the age-old rhythm of the day. People adapted to the landscape they lived in – the changing of the seasons – and the flow of the working day.
The daylight and the weather were natural restrictions – and the people had no option but to obey. There was a time for work – and a time for rest.
The old house
All through the Middle Ages – and in certain parts of Norway well into the 1700s – the typical farmhouse was a single-storey log building with no windows – a so-called årestue – with just an open fireplace in the centre of the room. There was an earthen or stone floor, and the smoke from the fire would gather in the upper part of the room, before escaping through a vent in the roof – a ljore.
The only natural light would come through the smoke vent, which in earlier times consisted of a transparent cow’s stomach stretched over a wooden frame – or through the entrance door.
Many of the early emigrants from Norway to America would have known such buildings.
The hour of twilight
As daylight started to wane early in the short winter days, people would finish their outdoor chores and seek to the warmth of the fireplace. In the light of the fire, they would maybe eat a little and take a rest before the lamp was lit.
For many, this was the moment of the day that later in life would evoke many happy childhood memories. Maybe seeing the image of a dear mother darning an old sock in front of the fire – or hearing the peaceful breathing of a father resting in his bed.
In the hour of twilight, there was peace and quiet. No lamp would be lit until it was almost entirely dark.
Later, when the lamp was burning, the people would start the various evening chores and activities.
Father would mend a shoe, make a wooden rake or rub the horse’s harness with grease.
Mother would sit with her spinning wheel, making the wool into yarn. Often she would do this during the autumn. After Christmas, she would use the thread to weave the cloth needed for the family’s clothing.
The old farm and the family living there was a self-sufficient entity. From the beginning of time up until not so long ago, this was how our Norwegian ancestors lived their lives.
Main source: «Den norske byggeskikken» by Arne Lie Christensen – Pax Forlag AS 1995.
Main photo: Kjellebergstua from Valle in Setesdal. King Oscar II’s collection, Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo. | Photo: Axel Lindahl – Norsk Folkemuseum – Public domain.