Swedish Language Blog

Swedish Gifts – Dala Horses Posted by on Apr 15, 2009 in Culture

Thank you all who contributed suggestions for gifts from Sweden. Your ideas were great! I tend to buy gifts that I would like to get myself, and hence, they are not always very representative of the region, and certainly do not take into account the tastes and preferences of other people.

Since I am not a fan of Marabou, I wouldn’t choose it as a gift. But Daim chocolate bars are OK. Or candy bras with goofy names as Pigall, or Brejk, or Plopp. Even though Plopp is made by Cloetta, not by Marabou, I think. See what I mean?

And since we are pretty far north, the gifts from our region are not necessarily representative of the whole of Sweden. After all, how many cushions with the reindeer warning sign does one need? Or candles decorated with björk (birch) leaves? Or cheese slicers with handles made out of reindeer bones? Or Sami hats?

This time I think I will choose a Dala horse – Dalahäst. This is not something that I would normally select for a gift, but I understand why its Swedish flavor and tradition may appeal to many other people.

But how to pick a Dala horse? There are quite a few varieties out there. I’m no expert and it was very interesting to learn about the different schools of painting the horse, and about the different shapes and styles that are used in carving of the statuette.

I wasn’t very familiar with the history of the Dala horse. I knew it was an old tradition and that back in the olden days the horses were made as toys for children. Why horses and not for example ducks or dogs? Horses were invaluable and precious and implied certain level of wealth. Remember – back in those days Sweden was a poor country.

What I was not aware of is that it takes up to nine different artists to create one horse. I always thought it was just one guy in a hut somewhere doing the carving, sanding, painting and all. Not so, it turns out. It is a highly specialized process done by highly specialized handcrafters.

How did a Dala horse become a symbol of Sweden and gain international popularity? It probably happened thanks to the three meter horse displayed by Sweden during the World Expo in New York in 1939.

These days there are many different Dala horse workshops, but Nils Olsson and Grannas Olsson are the most famous ones.

And did you know that piggies and roosters can also be carved in the style of Dala horses? I had no idea.
So, along with a pretty red horse, I want to find a book with more information about this Swedish tradition and one gift from Sweden will be taken care of. Nineteen more to go. LOL!

PS. Because we are still having issues with uploading photos to the blog, if you want to look at Dala horses, visit the two links above. The sites also have English-language versions.

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  1. Luke (Sydney):

    Lucky for you Anna, people are asking me to get a Victa lawn mower for them.

  2. Goran:

    Dala horse a culture treasure, look at http://www.dalahorse.info