Swedish Press April-May 2023 Vol 94-02 Sample

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NYA SVENSKA PRESSEN EST.1929 Swed sh Pre s s [ ] i World Heritage Hälsingegårdar | Kilts of Helsingland | Hälsingehambon www.SwedishPress.com April-May 2023 Vol 94:02 $9.95 Folklore of Hälsingland 02 2023

Dance Until You Drop at Hälsingehambon

According to legend, the Hårga song is so spellbinding, you won’t be able to stop dancing. For traditional music, dancing, and outfits galore, visit the annual dance event Hälsingehambon

It was late one Saturday night when a stranger walked into a dance lodge in the village of Hårga in Hälsingland. When the music stopped, he grabbed his fiddle and began to play a tune they had never heard. The young people of Hårga began to dance and dance. But once they started, they couldn’t stop. Enchanted by the music, they forgot about God and the world around them.

At the break of dawn, the fiddler lifted his bow towards the rising sun and led the young dancers outside. They danced over meadows and hills, high up to the ridge of Hårga mountain. Wearing out their heels and soles, nobody could stop dancing. Who was this stranger? What was this enchanted tune that drove them all wild? “If you don’t stop, our hearts will burst! Oh God help us; he has a cloven hoof!” they cried.

Before long, the bells rung in the valley. Villagers made their way to the parish church, but where was Hårga’s youth? Still dancing! “Stop your bow, oh fiddler, they will dance their bodies and souls to pieces.” But the fiddler did not stop. He climbed a pine tree and kept playing from its top. The youth danced and danced until nothing but their skeletons remained. Legend has it you can still see marks from the dancers on Hårga mountain; and,

Hälsingehambon – the Vasaloppet of dance – in Hårga, Arbrå, and the final in Järvsö. Photo: Camilla Persson
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if you’re brave enough to venture there on a full moon night, you can still hear the music the Devil played.

Hundreds of years later, the Hårga legend inspired an annual dance event known as Hälsingehambon. Spanning several quaint villages, it is a full-day event of dancing “hambo”, a traditional pairs folkdance, in the fields beneath the Hårga mountain, the grass meadows of Arbrå and the outdoor, wooden dance floor of Järvsö. Sometimes called the Vasaloppet of dance, each stage ends with an 8-minute-long hambo competition, with the final held in Järvsö. There is also a youth category for people under the age of 15 and a senior category for those older than 55.

The event, founded in 1965, became so popular that in 1979, the organizers had to limit the number of dancers to 1,500 couples. Participation dwindled over the last two decades, but after the pandemic, 2022’s event brought back the enthusiasm of old.

On the first Saturday after the first Sunday in July, when the morning mist has lifted, and the elves have danced the dew off the field, dancers, musicians, and bystanders all come together for a traditional fäbodfrukost at Ol-Jons Hembygdsgård in Hårga.

“It’s a joyous time for greeting new and old friends over a lengthy, traditional breakfast,” says Robert Gustafson from Eugene, Oregon, who has been practicing Scandinavian folkdance since 2013.

Robert first learned about Hälsingehambon when former champions Camilla Idh and Magnus Mårtensson came to teach Hälsinge dance at the Scandia Camp Mendocino in 2017.

The following summer, Robert brought two of his children to Hälsing-

land. Triplets Brede and Soren were 15-years old at the time and became the first non-Swedes to win the youth category. As Robert didn’t bring a partner, the organizers helped to team him up with a local dancer and the two of them went on to tie for third place in the senior category – an amazing achievement for a first effort. The family was hooked, and Robert became a regular at Hälsingehambon

When the Swedish Press catches up with him in 2022, he is in Hälsingland with his son Aemon. They have both been teamed up with locals.

Donning traditional folk costumes, Robert and Aemon join the other dancers in a grand procession behind flag bearers and local musicians known as spelmän, marching solemnly towards Hårga mountain. In the fields beneath the mountain, they begin to dance in circular laps. As in the legend, they dance and they dance. The constant spinning of the hambo, in addition to the group as a whole moving in circles around the field, makes me dizzy just watching. But both Robert and Aemon look unfazed, keeping their chins up and their shoulders straight as they turn their partners round and round.

When all couples have danced their eight minutes before the judges,

and the points have been awarded, it’s time to move on to Arbrå, about a half hour’s distance away by car, where the next stage of the competition takes place. It too, commences with a grand procession, but this time the dancers perform on different terrain – a grassy hillside. The event ends in Järvsö. While its wooden dance floor may seem easy in comparison, the couples who make the semi-finals and finals, must maintain both impeccable technique and enthusiasm as dancing continues late into the evening.

In the bright summer nights of Hälsingland, it is hard to distinguish when dusk turns to night turns to dawn. The air is enchanted. The music magical. When I leave, Robert and Aemon are still smiling and dancing. Perhaps they are still dancing now.

For more information about the event and how to register, please visit https://halsingehambon.com

Spelmän in the grand procession. Aemon and his dance partner Elin Wennersten. Photos: Noelle Norman
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Robert with his dance partner Lotta Ivarsson.

Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland

Hälsingland is home to many large, lavishly decorated, wooden farmhouses representing the pinnacle of a regional timber building tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Unique and majestic, in 2012 they received UNESCO World Heritage status.

There are over a thousand 18th and 19th century timber structures remaining in the province of Hälsingland, many of which are large, decoratively painted, wooden farmhouses and outbuildings. These structures reflect an extraordinary combination of timber building and folk-art traditions, and represent the peak of prosperity for the 19th century independent farmers who built them.

While Hälsingland didn’t have an aristocracy, it had plenty of farmers

who owned their own land and forests. They made their fortunes in agriculture, cattle breeding, linen manufacture and trade, as well as the sale of land, lumber, and felling rights. They used their affluence to construct and decorate special farmhouses built for festivities.

In 2012, seven of these buildings were allocated world heritage status: Gästgivars, Kristofers, Pallars, JonLars, Bortom Åa, Bommars and ErikAnders. According to UNESCO:

“The 7 decorated farmhouses of

Hälsingland represent an outstanding collection of farmhouses with more than 1,000 well-preserved farms and about 400 room decorations still in situ. The density of intact preserved decorated rooms is unparalleled...

The farms... are outstanding examples of how independent farmers within a small geographical area combined a highly developed building tradition with a rich folk art tradition in the form of decoratively painted interiors especially for celebrations.

These decorated farms bear witness

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The World Heritage farmhouses are spread across an area 100 km east to west and 50 km north to south. Six are located in Hälsingland while the seventh sits just across the border in Dalarna – although this area was culturally part of Hälsingland in the 1800s. This is Jon-Lars Farm. Photo: Maria G Nilsson

of a culture that has disappeared today, but whose buildings and interiors with their variations, richness and quality, have been preserved in an exceptional way... and are of outstanding universal value.”

A particularly distinctive feature of these farmhouses is the construction of a separate house, or suites of rooms in the main house, reserved exclusively for festivities. The owners would commission artists from Hälsingland or itinerant painters from neighbouring Dalarna to cover the interiors either with canvas or textile paintings affixed to the walls, or paintings applied directly onto the wooden ceilings or walls. The paintings represent a fusion of folk art with the styles favoured by the aristocracy of the time, such as Baroque and Rococo.

Even though there could be three residential dwellings on each farm, families often lived together in one or two rooms. The additional, extravagantly furnished, painted, and decorated spaces were opened only a few times in the span of a generation. Not even harvest festivals or festive Christmas celebrations were prestigious enough to be held in these chambers. Only truly significant family events, such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals, qualified.

A wedding would last for several days, and no expense was spared. Staff would be hired to bake, decorate, and prepare several months before the festivities. When the big day arrived, fiddlers would greet the hundreds of guests and accompany them to the wedding farmhouse. Because it was important that the building made a great first impression, the entryways were especially beautiful, replete with decorative carpentry and paint.

During the wedding itself, the

bride would wear a black dress, bright pearls, silk shawls, paper flowers, and an impressive coronet. The most elaborate wall paintings would mark the place of the newlyweds in the festive hall.

Today, around 50 farmhouses are open to visitors and some even offer overnight stays. Six of the seven world heritage farmhouses are privately owned residences and only open to

the public on certain occasions or upon pre-booking. Contact the local tourist offices in Hälsingland or the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland World Heritage Visitor Center in the municipality concerned for more information about current arrangements at each farm.

More information can also be found on: https://destinationhalsingland.se

Jon-Lars is the largest of the Hälsingland farms. It was built in the 1850s by two brothers who furnished their respective halves of the house in different styles. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se Traditional wedding clothes from Hälsingland. Photo: Skansen.se
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Top: Pallars in Långhed. Bottom: Kristofers in Stene. Photos: Maria G Nilsson

Kilts of Helsingland

Swedish kilts? Yes, it’s a thing! Mikael Öst, a carpenter from Delsbo, has reinvented the folkdräkt of his region in the form of a kilt, challenging the norms of what constitutes a traditional Swedish outfit. “Think of it as the result of a relationship that our ancestors started a thousand years ago,” he says.

It all began in 2011 with a trip to Scotland. An avid genealogist, Mikael’s father-in-law had found a connection between his family and the MacDonald clan in Scotland. He decided to go visit and brought the whole family along. As a souvenir from the trip, Mikael bought a kilt. Later that summer, he wore it to Delsbo’s annual folk music festival, Delsbostämman, where he was peppered with questions about it. After a whole weekend of telling the story of the MacDonald clan, Mikael realized he wanted to tell his own story – and the idea was born: why not create a Dellen tartan based on the colors of the traditional outfits of the region?

Hälsingland is famous for its old-school, traditional clothing and many claim Delsbodräkten is the most beautiful folkdräkt in the country. That said, it is sometimes frowned upon when outsiders wear it. Mikael wanted his tartan to be inclusive, so instead of naming it after Delsbo, Bjuråker, or any of the other small towns with famous outfits, he named it Dellen after the lake system consisting of two lakes – Northern and Southern Dellen in Hälsingland.

“Since nobody was born in Dellen, nobody can tell you that you cannot wear this kilt,” he says.

While Mikael’s parents are both from Hälsingland and he has family

roots in Delsbo, dating as far back as the 1700s, Mikael and his wife were both born and raised in Märsta, outside Stockholm. After the birth of their son in 1993, they moved to Delsbo.

“The culture of the region is very strong, and it is considered one of few places where the use of the folkdräkt is still alive, meaning that people wear traditional clothing regularly, and not always entirely by the book. They mix and match, wearing the pieces they can get a hold of and combining them with more modern clothing,” says Mikael.

Thus, the folkdräkt continues to evolve in Hälsingland and Mikael wanted to contribute to its evolution.

A carpenter by trade, for four months, Mikael devoted his free time to designing a tartan that he felt told the story of Dellen. He then ordered himself a kilt. It arrived in the summer of 2015, and he wore it proudly to Delsbostämman.

“After that something happened. People started to contact me. I hadn’t intended to sell kilts. I didn’t realize that others would want them too,” he says.

A special church service known as Stämmogudstjänst opens Delsbo's annual folk music festival.
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Photo: Stefan Herfurth

The production of his own kilt had cost a small fortune, so this time Mikael decided to wait until he had enough demand to place a larger order. He travelled to Scotland and found a top-quality weaving mill he could work with at his volumes. They also happened to be the supplier of fabric for French fashion houses.

“If I was going to do it, I wanted the quality to be top-notch,” he says.

Before long, Mikael had sold 150 kilts and at Delsobstämman they are now a common sight, despite the hefty price tag of between 500 and 800 US dollars depending on length.

“The men’s version of the Delsbodräkt is very hard to get a hold of, so the Dellenkilt provides an alternative. Also, many men feel more comfortable in the kilt than wearing the traditional outift,” he says. “A kilt is the ultimate piece of clothing. You can

wear it hiking, to the pub, to a fancy wedding, anywhere really depending on what you pair it with up top.”

While a few people were irritated by his creation, suggesting that kilts had no place among traditional Swedish outfits, his orders told a different story – men from all walks of life began ordering the Dellenkilt. Bank employees, car repair men, student graduates, some had a connection to Dellenbygden or Hälsingland, others did not, but the design captured the essence of something quintessentially Swedish.

From Östersund in the north to Gothenburg in the south, people were sporting the kilt and suddenly, Mikael became a minor media celebrity. Regional newspapers, interior design magazines, tourism magazines, all came calling. Even the Nordic Museum reached out to ask permission

to include his kilt in the exhibition Brittish så in i Norden (on display until 2024). As such, Mikael became known as the carpenter who wove his own history.

In 2019, he created a second design, registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans as “Grim of Helsingland”. This tartan has more of a Viking touch as Grim is another name for the Norse god Odin and Helsingland is the old spelling of the province. In 2022, he added the tartan Northman.

Local success has led to international growth. Mikael recently shipped his first international orders to Ireland and the US, and now ships worldwide.

“The love of Hälsingland and its culture is what propels me to continue. It gives me purpose and creates a sense of belonging,” Mikael concludes.

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There is something magical about the forests of Hälsingland. Photo: Madeleine Lindh of Helsingelind Fotografi. See more at https://helsingelind.se/home
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