The Old Icelandic Almanac (KH)

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Katharina Hauptmann's picture

Before switching over to the Julian calendar, medieval Icelanders calculated with the old Icelandic calendar.

But even in 2014 some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still connected to the old system, the misseristal (‘half year counting’).

The Icelandic calendar is based on solstices and equinoxes as they are so predominant and of substantial impact on the Nordic countries. In the winter time, the days are very, very short here and the coming of the Winter Solstice marks the rebirth of the year and the prospect of the white nights of the summer to come. Because of this, the year begins around the Winter Solstice.

The misseristal calendar is peculiar insofar that the months always start on the same weekday rather than on the same date. For example, the month of Þorri always begins on a Friday sometime between January 9 and 15; Góa always starts on a Sunday between February 8 and 14.

Back in the good old days the Vikings only knew two seasons: summer and winter. Given that a year had twelve months, each season was divided in six months each.

That makes perfect sense as spring and autumn as such don’t really exist here in Iceland. They are comparatively short and barely notable.

The winter months are accordingly referred to as skammdegi (‘short days’), whereas the summer months are náttleysi (‘nightless days’).

With some months it was confusing to tell where their names actually came from, as I learnt while reading up on this subject.

The months of the winter are as followed: 
Gormánuður: mid October till mid November, ‘slaughter month’ or ‘Gór’s month’ 
Ýlir or frermánuður: mid November – mid December, ‘Yule month’ or ‘Frost month’ 
Mörsugur or hrútmánuður: mid December – mid January, ‘fat/tallow sucking month’ or ‘Month of the ram’ 
Þorri: mid January – mid February, "frozen snow month" or “month of Þorri” (Þorri being a frost giant) 
Góa: mid February – mid March, ‘Gói’s month’ or ‘thin snow month’ 
Einmánuður: mid March – mid April, ‘single month’)

A Viking summer consists of:  
Harpa or gaukmánuður: mid April – mid May, Harpa is a girl’s name meaning ‘harp’ but might also refer to a forgotten goddess; gaukmánuður translates into ‘cuckoo’s month’ 
Skerpla: mid May – mid June, Skerpla might be another forgotten goddess 
Sólmánuður: mid June – mid July, ‘sun month’) 
Heyannir: July – mid August, "hay month") 
Tvímánuður: mid August – mid September, ‘two’ or ‘second month’ 
Haustmánuður: mid September – mid October, ‘autumn month’

According to that, we now have Þorri. In this month, Icelanders traditionally celebrate the Þorrablót, a feast where all the traditional Viking food is eaten, as nicely illustrated here by fellow Eygló or by yours truly right here. 

All we need to do now is to get ready to eat all those delicious sheep's heads, ram’s testicles and whale blubber and this is why Þorri is my favorite month of the year - so far.

Katharina Hauptmann – katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

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