A Dala horse is a traditional carved, painted wooden statue of a horse originating in the Swedish province of Dalarna (Dalecarlia).
In the winter of 1716, while King Charles XII of Sweden waged war throughout most of Europe, many soldiers were quartered in private homes in the Mora area of Sweden. Tradition has it that one such soldier, in his spare time, carved a Dala Horse from some scrap wood in the home where he was staying.
Horses arrived in Sweden as early as 4000 years ago and have always been highly valued and have become a symbol of strength and courage.
The origin of the craft can be traced to the lumberjacks’ log cabins as early as the 18th century. In the evenings they would sit around the fireplaces during winter nights, carving figures from odd pieces of wood. The popular choice was a horse, which was a creature of great value for families. These were taken home to the children in the villages where they became much-treasured toys.
These simple wooden horses were later painted in bright colours inspired by the flower patterns painted on furniture and walls in the region.
During this time travelling salesmen selling traditional household items would also bring Dalahastar to use as payment for board and lodgings. They also became an important source of income for poorer families. Even young children had to learn to carve wooden horses after returning home from school. The children of one such family started a small business at the ages of 13 and 15 in 1928. Their children and grandchildren are still producing the Dala horses to this day in a little village called Nusnas in Dalarna. Their Dalahast has now become an authentic symbol of Sweden.
During the 1939 World Exhibition in New York, this was when the Dala wooden horse became famous around the world. A giant painted Dala horse was placed outside the Swedish pavilion and caused a sensation among the visitors. After the exhibition, more than 20 000 Dala horses were shipped over to New York and so the Swedish Dala horse became a symbol for Sweden.
These days Dala horse is a traditional gift in Sweden for any kind of life celebration including weddings and graduations.
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