The traditional symbol of Sweden is the Dalahast. This horse symbol originated during the 18th century in the Dalarna region of Sweden. Lumberjacks began carving horse figures from odd pieces of wood. The horse represented a creature of great value and a faithful friend. During the 19th century, it became custom to paint the wooden horses with richly colored flower patterns.
Legend is that a hungry solider came to Dalarna. He carved a horse from a piece of a tree. Then he took red clay, mixed it with water to paint the horse. When it was finished, he gave it to a young boy who had been watching him. The child was so excited with the gift that he took the solider and horse home to show his mother. In return for the kindness shown for his son, the mother gave him a bowl of soup.
In the 17th century, the hand carved Dala was used for barter. During the long winter months or in times of poor crops, it was necessary to augment income with revenues from other sources. Men would fill a wagon with brightly colored horses and other homemade articles. They would venture out to sell or barter for grain. To show their appreciation for overnight accommodations at farmhouses along the way, they would offer painted horses for the children.
Since Viking times, the horse was considered a holy animal. Wooden Dala horses were plain and made for children’s toys. A century ago, they appeared in the traditional red with the kurbit and flower patterned saddle. The designs come from the Biblical story of Jonah. He sat outside Ninevah and the Lord caused a kurbit of gourd vine to grow, protecting him from the desert sun. Gwen Workman author