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Dala Horses and Decorating Kits: Our St. Lucia Festival Re-imagined

Harbor History Museum Staff

This year, instead of having a festival for the masses at the museum, we're bringing the festival to the masses—virtually. In our previous post, we shared the martyred history of Saint Lucia, the girl whose kindness and bravery is celebrated from Italy to Sweden. In this post, we'll share the magical powers of the Dala horse, and recipes for art and kitchen in the local Scandinavian tradition.

If you've picked up your Dala Horse Activity Bag at the Harbor History Museum, you'll find a small wooden horse, some colorful flowery stickers, and a booklet of ticklers for your imagination. If you're wondering just how you might configure those stickers, borrow some ideas from this illustration found in the book Per and the Dala Horse illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. See how the flower patterns cover its back, belly and neck?

Use the stickers in your bag to create beautiful layered patterns on your dala horse. We recommend playing with different ideas BEFORE you unstick the stickers from their backing. Plan your layers so that you're creating a pattern similar to the traditional painted dala horses whose harness was covered in fanciful flower designs. If you're really adventuresome, you can paint your horse first with a fast drying acrylic or spray paint (NOT tempera paint as the stickers won't stick to that). You can also use markers to draw designs instead of or in addition to using the stickers.

Even if you don't have a dala kit, you can still make a dala horse of your own. Simply take a heavy piece of paper or cardboard, draw the outline of a dala horse, and cut it out. Punch a hole at the base of its neck for a piece of ribbon or string, then finish decorating your dala horse with paint, stickers, flowers, or markers.

Once your dala horse is complete, hang it on your tree, stocking hook, or wherever you can see it and feel its special power. What special power, you may ask? Find out here in this reading of Per and the Dala Horse, recorded especially for you. Click the cover to turn the page and hear the story.

History note: Dala horses were first made in the Dalarna, a region in central Sweden. Sometimes called a "dalecarnian" horse, dala horses originated as a carved, painted toy and have now become a symbol of Sweden. Interestingly, dala horses look very similar in shape to the Fjord horse, often associated with Norway (Sweden and Norway didn't become separate countries until 1905). The Fjord horse is small, strong, and sturdy, tracing its origin to ancient horses that roamed the northland more than 4,000 years ago.

Cool Museum Note: One of the largest dala horses (as in pony sized!) is held in the collection of the Nordic Museum in Seattle. It is uniquely painted with local imagery that you might just recognize. Take a look at the pictures in the collection record. They're great inspiration!



Per and the Dala Horse, by Rebecca Hickox and illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. New York: Doubleday, 1995; reprint Skandisk, 2003. Read by Stephanie Lile, video editing by Jennifer Beard and Robin Harrison.

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