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On the Christmas celebrations of the past and "pulling the wool over your eyes"

Christmas in Småland 1785
The Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

What was the typical Christmas celebration among the common people in the past? We know that there were neither Christmas trees nor Christmas presents in the farmhouses if we go back far enough in time, but there has never been a lack of Christmas traditions in Sweden.

“Småländsk jul” är en gammal målning av Pehr Hörberg från 1785, 232 år gammal, och målningen är enligt Nordiska Museet den äldsta bild som finns av julfirande i Sverige. I förgrunden leker några “dra kavle” i halmen som täckte golvet.

Vad går då leken “dra kavle” ut på? Jo, det är en mycket gammal kraftmätning, en typ av dragkamp, med anor från åtminstone vikingatiden – sannolikt ännu äldre. I boken Viking martial arts (2015) nämner Lars Magnar Enoksen leken, som också kallades “dra hank” eller “dra handkavle”. Han beskriver den så här:

Two people who wanted to test each other's strength sat on the ground facing each other and placed the soles of their feet against the soles of their opponent's feet. They then stretched out their arms and grasped a strong tree branch (pulling club) or a sturdy piece of rope, not infrequently forming a bound circle (pulling handle). It was also possible to grasp the opponent's wrists (pulling the handcuff), but in this case even more agility and back strength was required from the participants, as they were in a more forward and less advantageous or neutral starting position than in the club and hand pulls.

If a club was pulled, the stick or tree branch would be just above the feet of the two fighters when the fight began. To make it as fair as possible, each had an outside and an inside tag (compare with wrestling with fixed tags, side and side). In the case of hand or rope pulling, both had a grip on each end of the rope, so there was no need to take each of the outside and inside holds as both had the same grip. In the case of hand chess, the bada fighters had the same grip on the opponent's wrists, but they could also curl their fingers and thus hook the opponent's hands, and of course they had the same grip in this game.

If a person of superior strength was pitted against a weaker man or woman, the strong man or woman was allowed to grasp only with one hand, while the weaker man or woman was allowed to grasp with both hands. The intention, of course, was to make the fight as even and fair as possible.

The loser was the first to let go of the club, the rope or the opponent's wrist. You could also win the tug-of-war if you managed to lift your opponent off the ground, provided the opponent did not release his grip.

Här har vi en tradition som bara väntar på att återinföras i det svenska julfirandet. Att uppmuntra den kroppsliga styrkans förädling hos kommande generationer är aldrig fel. Så strö ut lite halm på golvet, hitta er en redig trädgren, och lär barnen att “dra kavle” i jul!

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