Something Swedish


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First SomethingSwedish VIDEO: Valborg in Halmstad, celebrating Spring in Sweden

Last year was my first time experiencing the celebration of Valborg in Sweden. Here, let this link to last years post refresh your memory: **Links are currently broken – search for “Valborg- How We Welcome Spring in Sweden” to learn more about this tradition **

This year I decided to do something a bit different – I decided that text and photos are no longer enough for the fans, friends, and family of SomethingSwedish – so I started a Youtube channel, recorded a video, edited it, and am now sharing it for your viewing pleasure!

A lot of you have said how it feels like you are living vicariously through my words and captured moments, I want it to feel like you are really in Sweden with me. A picture can say a thousand words, but is that enough to feel the atmosphere, hear the language, and listen to the music?

Enjoy this video of the Valborg celebration, I hope it to be the first of many! Tell me what you think and what you want to see videos of next!

Trip to the Tivoli Christmas Market

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Tivoli is always a beautiful place, especially at night, but with all the extra Christmas decorations and lights, with dozens of fun stores filled with presents and ornaments, it was extra special!  ~ Enjoy!

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Hope all those photos put you in the Christmas spirit! This week I sent out all of my U.S bound Christmas cards and exchanged my first presents! It really is around the corner!

This gallery contains 32 photos


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First Snowfall: Första Snöfall

When many people (Read: Americans) think of Sweden they think of snow. And Polar Bears (Which there are none of). A snowy winter is how I know Sweden to be, not only because of that stereotype, but because I have spent all of my visits here during Christmas time.

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I’ve always loved snow, but I welcomed this snow with extra glee. It doesn’t snow nearly as much in the Southern tip of Sweden as in the rest of the country. Yesterday was my first “first snow” in Sweden, especially because I finally have something to compare “Snowy Sweden” to. The best part of the first snow early in December? Saying goodbye to Dreary Grey November. I’ve never experienced a Swedish November before, and I have to say it was the worst. On December 1st the sky finally opened up and revealed it’s blue self again, and then gave us snow to brighten our long nights as we hung decorations.

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This will be my forth Christmas in Sweden, but my first full winter. My visits were usually barely enough time to enjoy Christmas and New Years. I’ve never been here long enough to enjoy Christmas shopping, Christmas Markets, Lucia, or Advent.

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I was surprised to see so many cyclists out braving the weather. I could barely walk without falling. There are more tire tracks than footprints in the snow.

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An interesting difference that I find in Sweden is the lack of shoveling. As soon as the snow accumulates at all in NYC you hear the whole neighborhood shoveling as its still snowing. And then again an hour later, and early in the morning. The sidewalks are COMPLETELY shoveled. In Sweden – not so much. I didn’t see or hear a single shovel, nor see a shoveled sidewalk. Instead, we just walk on the bumpy and slippery snow and ice on our way to work and school and try not to fall down. I guess it is also a different mentality than “If someone falls on my property because I didn’t shovel they can sue me” which is pretty unlikely to happen in Sweden.

In Sweden, instead of using rock salt before it snows or right after, there is always a layer of gravel on the ground from December – April. I guess it gives traction and breaks up the snow a bit, but it doesn’t melt snow and ice like rock salt does. And it looks so messy for months!

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Some photos of the beautiful sky we had today, taken from the new bridge that goes over the train tracks (2:30pm). I couldn’t quite capture it. To see photos of today’s picturesque sunset from a great view, visit this blogpost: MovingtoSweden

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A snowman I found outside my apartment, and a soda can – perfect way of measuring snow!

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Vocabulary:

Snow: Snö

Snowman: Snögubbe


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The First Advent & A Christmas Market

Yesterday was the start of the longest holiday season: Advent. It was the fourth Sunday from Christmas and it’s a big deal in Sweden.

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Every Swedish family (I would assume) has Advent candles that they light gradually every week, creating a staircase effect. Yesterday we lit the first candle. Most traditional advent candles have an area where moss and decorations can be arranged. Everyday in town square you can find stands selling this moss, along with wreaths, decorations, pine branches, and advent candles:

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Another type of Advent candle that is lit a little bit each day:

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To celebrate the first advent, there was a Christmas market from 2pm-7pm filled with homemade items and foods to buy as Christmas presents.

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Many of the people selling things were wearing Santa caps. Even the horses and hot dog vendors:

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During the Christmas market there were things happening all throughout town. There was caroling and music, horsey rides400042_10151463854640312_657501302_n and face painting for the kids, dancing around the Christmas tree, free gingerbread cookies and glögg, an Advent concert at the church, and the town’s Lucia was crowned. Lucia is a very big holiday here, which I’ll write about in about a week. It was too cold to stick around and see everything that was going on, unfortunately.

Despite the below freezing temperatures (-7°c/20°f) and the night time darkness at 4:30pm (it felt like 9pm), it was the most crowded I’ve seen Halmstad. These two things are also the cause of only a few low quality photos, my fingers were a bit too frostbiten. (See said finger in photo below)

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Traditionally, the first advent was also the day that stores revealed their Christmas window displays and decorations – meaning all the stores in town are open ON A SUNDAY! Nowadays, most of the Christmas decor has already been displayed, but the stores open their doors anyway. It was unbelievable how many people were out shopping yesterday, to the point that it was difficult getting in and out of places, without any special sales – just because it is tradition. (And exotic to shop on a Sunday!)

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This count down to Christmas became popular in the 1930’s in Sweden, without so much emphasis on the religious origin; the “coming” of Christ. Instead it gives the country a reason to celebrate and be festive. Special Advent decorations are in all the windows, advent calendars are opened, candles are lit, and even an annual advent 24-episode kids show is used as a count down to Christmas. By the first Advent, Southern Sweden only has 6-7 hours of daylight, so the extra decorations, lights, candles and festivities are a huge plus for moral. For Northern Sweden, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, this time is also a count down to the Winter Solstice on December 21st, when the daytime sunlight will return. “It will soon turn,” is supposed to be a common greeting in Northern Sweden, waiting for the Winter  solstice to come and bring back daylight.

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Vocabulary

First/1st: Först/ 1:e

Christmas: Jul

Christmas Market: Julmarknad

Christmas Present: Julklapp

Stores: Butiker/Affärer

To shop: Att handla

To buy: Att köpa

Advent Candles: Adventsljusstake

Decoration: Dekoration

Freezing: Frysning


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Today: Fars Dag & Veterans Day

“Don’t forget Father’s Day!” signs are posted throughout the town in bookstores, bakeries, and flower shops. The reminder surprised me, as in the US, Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. Father’s day was created in the USA in June 1910 to compliment Mother’s Day, so most countries celebrate around that time time. Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Estonia celebrate it on the second Sunday of November instead. Father’s day is said to have traveled to Sweden in the 1930’s, but like Mother’s Day, did not become popular very quickly. Today my husbands father was celebrated with a homemade cake.

This year the Swedish Father’s Day falls on the same day that Veterans Day/Remembrance Day is observed in other countries, which marks the end of WWI; “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” A red paper poppy is worn to remember, commemorate,  and honor all veterans. They are made by veterans and the profits go towards

a veteran charity. This red flower was inspired by a poem, “In Flanders Fields” and represents the first flowers that grew on the graves of fallen soldiers. In the U.S. we also celebrate Memorial Day in May, which is a more popular “Poppy Day.”

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Happy Fathers Day to dads that celebrate it today and thank you to all veterans, present and past.

Vocabulary:

Today: Idag

Don’t forget: Glöm inte

Flowers: Blommor

Books: Böcker

Father: Far, pappa

To celebrate: Firar

Remember: Minns


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Halloween in Sweden

Growing up in New York Halloween meant dressing up for costume parties, bobbing for apples, and trick or treating door to door. Even stores and businesses stock up candy to give to the kids. When I was a little older Halloween was more about the massive candy sales, carving jack o’lanterns, and decorating with gravestones, half buried skeletons, glow in the dark eyes, and cobwebs. You can’t go anywhere without seeing spooky decorations everywhere.

Pumpkin Picking Two Years Ago vs. “Bobbing for Pumpkins” This Year

The cashiers literary didn’t know how to ring it up or what to charge.

Halloween in Sweden just isn’t the same. There’s the occasional costume party. Some bars have Halloween themed nights. But… there’s no decorated houses, porches or windows. No Pop-up Halloween stores to excitedly browse. No gigantic bags of individually wrapped candy that will be half price in a week. No candy corn. No haunted houses. No pumpkin patches to find the perfect pumpkin. No excited trick or treaters. (So Far)

Thankfully, our local bakery bakes Halloween themed cakes:

The Americanized Halloween traditions I’m so used to were introduced to Sweden in the 1990’s, supposedly from Hard Rock Cafe and a Swedish year-round costume chain called “Buttericks”, but American traditions are also widely known and sometimes mimicked in Sweden through TV and Movies. With all the hype and festivities, a lot of people forget that Halloween is not an American holiday, but instead has Pagan (fall harvest festival of Samhain) and Christian (All Saints Eve/ All Hallows’ Eve) roots, which was brought to America by the surge of Irish immigrants in the 19th century and became mainstream in the 20th century.

Similarly to Valentines day (Read Here), Halloween is observed and known in Sweden, but not nearly to the same extent. This is ALL of the Halloween stuff I could find  in town, aside from a couple bars and bakeries:

I’ve read a few interesting reasons why Sweden hasn’t jumped on the Halloween bandwagon:

1) All Saints Day is traditionally observed here, which is a time to pay respect to saints, visit the graves of loved ones, and light candles in remembrance. The two holidays conflict too much, as the contrast between them is too drastic. Some think they are the same day, but they are not. Alla Helgons Dag = All Saints Day Alla Helgons Afton (eve) = Halloween

2) Many people here view Halloween as only celebrating with scary costumes such as skeletons, ghosts, witches, and zombies (From the few Halloween costumes I’ve found in stores I’ve never seen anything cute and fun like princess’s, cowboys, cartoon characters, or superheroes) Too many “Tricks” are associated as part of the regular tradition, such as toilet papering and throwing rotten eggs. This seems to discourage parents.

3) Youngsters in Sweden dress up as witches for Easter (Read here), starsholders for Lucia, and gingerbread cookies for Christmas. Another costume? No Thanks.

4) Trick or Treating is pointless when Swedes have a huge  lösgodis (Loose candy) consumption and buy candy regularly.

Some confusion about the “When” is also a part of the Swedish Halloween downfall. While some people celebrate on the “traditional” or “popular” date October 31st, some Swedes will still celebrate Halloween on the eve of All Saints Day, even though it is now a floating date –  the first Saturday between October 31st and November 6th. I’ve read stories of expats being very confused about finally receiving their first ever trick or treaters, but it was almost a week later and they weren’t prepared. There are also some school parties or bar themed parties the weekend BEFORE, which spreads out the holiday celebration even thinner.

I was sad to hear that carving pumpkins is also not too common (I’ve seen two outside of a toy store), and many Swedes have never carved a pumpkin! I couldn’t resist the tradition- and it turns out my husband HAS carved pumpkins and is quite skilled at it!

I just stumbled upon a website for a pumpkin patch  in Sweden that an American started in 1998: Louie’s Pumpkin Patch  It might be something to check out next year!

Additionally the island of Öland has a yearly fall harvest festival Skördefest during the last days on September, which looks like fun! Öland  is known for the Swedish pumpkin growing, and has expanded since the introduction of Halloween.

I dressed up a little witchy to celebrate All Hallows Eve, and was met with strange looks. Maybe because it was during the day. I’ve heard reports from classmates of spotting other people dressed up, but haven’t seen more than two.

 

My earrings are cute spiders…because the devil is in the details :)

Next year I’m having a Halloween party to bring the celebration to ME.

In the meantime, I’m planning Thanksgiving Dinner for my Swedish family! Any tips?

Happy Halloween Everyone! *And a lot of love and prayers to those who lost so so much in Hurricane Sandy, I am thankful that my friends and family only sustained minimal damage but NYC as a whole is on my mind – Halloween has been a needed distraction.*

Vocabulary

Halloween – Alla Helgons Afton
To Celebrate – Att Fira
Pumpkin – Pumpa
Candle – Ljus
Costume –  Maskeraddräkt
Witch – Häxa
Spider – Spindel
Ghost – Spöke


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The Magic of Midsummer

The summer solstice is a pagan holiday when the sun rises the earliest and sets the latest which was said to be the most powerful day of the year, when magical elements are strongest. In Sweden the summer solstice is called Midsummer, once celebrated by sacrificing for fertility.

 Nowadays it is celebrated differently, but traditions and symbols are still recognized. Midsommar traditions in Sweden are so beloved and important that the day was debated to become the country’s Nationaldag, and to many people it is.

Until 1953 Midsommarafton (Mid summer eve – Most Swedish holidays are celebrated on the eve, instead of the day) was always celebrated on June 23rd. Now it is always observed on the Friday that falls between June 19th and the 26th, giving Swedes a three day weekend to properly enjoy the longest day of the year.

You can’t have a Swedish midsommar with out the maypole, “midsommarstång” (Midsummers pole). The central part to midsommar is decorating, rising, and dancing around the maypole to traditional music and traditional clothing.

One of the most popular maypole songs isSmå grodorna”  (The Little Frogs), where the dancers hop around the maypole.

“Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”

“The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.
No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”

Not only do maypoles get adorned with flowers and ribbon, but it is also common to decorate a crown as well. From wild flowers, string, and ribbon it is traditional to make and wear a “midsommarkrans.”

From 2010, when we celebrated mid summer in New York City

Flowers and greenary are an important part of Midsommar, once believed to hold the potency of magic on this day. Herbs are stronger, plants can bring good luck and health, and picking nine different sorts of wildflowers and placing them under your pillow would make you dream of your future spouse on this night.

Fresh Swedish strawberries are a top priority when celebrating Midsommar.

This year I picked berries for the first time ever, these small sweets are called “smultron,” and are a great addition to the strawberry desserts.

So very tiny, tasty, and fun to pick!

We had bowls of strawberries and smultron with mint and vanilla ice cream. We also had a strawberry and whipped cream cake, and a rhubarb and Strawberry pie!

Midsommar is also known for the new potatoes. Fresh from the ground, covered in dirt, and ready to be scrubbed –  new potatoes are one of the centerpieces of the midsommar meals. New potatoes paired with an assortment of pickled herring and boiled eggs followed by fresh strawberries is the way to go.

Aside from the food, the flowers, the magic, the maypole, the dancing, and the music, there are the games. Many friends and families play group games on midsommar as part of the festivities.

We played a classic Swedish game called “Kubb”

The real magic though, is in enjoying the 18 hours of daylight with great company.

Glad Midsommar!


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May Day And The Classic Car Parade

When we went out yesterday I was hoping to see protesters and street demonstrations marching with red flags for International Workers Day. In New York some large events have occurred on May 1st tied to this holiday over the years, but I’ve never been aware that it was a huge deal or even a set date. People protest when they want.  In Sweden May Day is a “Röd dag” (red day) which means a national holiday when almost everything is closed and the Swedish flag is raised. The labor movement has been an important part of Sweden since the end of the 1800’s.

While on the look out for protesters we were met with something much better prowling the streets of Halmstad. The Classic Car Parade! 

(See the Swedish flag in the background? Those are only up on red days) When we hit the street I saw an old American car in front of me and said “Hunny, look at that car!” He told me to look around, because there were dozens of them! I can be so blind.

It felt like being teleported back in time to the 60’s! It was amazing to see so many showing off. They were all driving nice and slow- perfect for photos!

There is usually no traffic allowed on this street, aside from buses. We assume buses had to change route since we didn’t see any and can’t imagine how they would have managed.

They  certainly caused some traffic but being the thoughtful and respectful Swedes they are, there were people at the intersection to make sure traffic moved smoothly (There are no lights).

Some people in the group that organize the event are really into the 60’s culture and were dressed up for the occasion. (Couldn’t capture it though) Hubby said he recognized a couple of them that  sport the long side burns all year round and it suddenly made sense.

Hubby’s favorite car out of the bunch

Some were in mint condition and others were more rustic.

Love the vibrant colors! Such beauty’s! A unique part of Swedish culture to stumble upon, the love for classic American cars.


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A Splash of New York

So, our guests from New York are on their way back home- it was awesome to see them and to be with friends from home for a few days!

Admittedly, their being here did confuse my brain a bit- arriving straight after Easter when I was exposed to almost all Swedish language and culture for three days straight at my in-laws, it felt extreme to be with them with no transition. They instantly noted that I picked up an almost-not-really-Swedish-accent when we met up on Sunday and by Tuesday I sounded like a New Yorker again. Going (running) to SFI straight from dropping them off at the train station on Wednesday was pretty unproductive as my mind was not really understanding Swedish again yet.

On Easter Day morning (don’t worry, we celebrate on Saturday here in Sweden!) hubby and I went to Goteborg. We stayed at the Ibis – a boat hotel!

Then we all set out with two museums in mind. We went to the Goteborg City Museum, which has the remains of the only viking ship in Sweden (or at least the largest amount/best preserved). The exhibit also showcased weapons, coins, jewelry, pieces of clothing, and more. The rest of the museum was a little more broadly  themes around Swedish life, culture and history, not only the viking age. We then took the tram to the Art museum, which has the largest amount of Scandinavian art.

Later on we made our way to Fangelset, the venue for a melodic death metal show, an old prison across from a cemetery. Our guests were very interested in seeing the metal scene in Sweden, so going to a show was top priority. The bands we saw were Agalloch and Velnius, both from the U.S. ironically, but nonetheless the crowd and atmosphere was Swedish. While death metal isn’t exactly my scene, it wasn’t my first time going to a show and I immediately saw that this was different. My husband must have seen me looking around because he leaned over and explained that Swedes just stand and listen, pay attention and appreciate. There was a lack of wildness that I had anticipated, there was no movement anywhere outside the slightest head bang which usually stayed within a 30 degree angle like an exaggerated and aggressive nod of approval. There was no dancing, moshing, moving, talking- I felt like I was standing amongst the  zombies. Eventually we spotted two or three who really stood out in the crowd, but would still be considered tame. There was also a lot more personal space, no pushing or shoving or standing on top of each other. It was a fun change of pace.

The next day we went back to Halmstad, the contrast between Goteborg and a smaller town was unpleasantly exaggerated by being a red day (holiday) and the windy rainy weather. Our options for Monday were extremely limited but we made the best of it by introducing them to Swedish pizza for lunch, relaxing, having a home cooked diner, playing pool, and then going to McDonald’s since it was sadly the only place open to just sit around and have some coffee.

The next day we set out for a Swedish Lunch Special, which is from 11- 3. After looking at a few menus and options we found a place just in time (2:45), most places were already done serving and we were the only ones at the restaurant that late in the afternoon. I was excited that our guests loved the traditional food and were impressed by how cheap lunch specials are in Sweden. Then I showed them the castle, old prison, and church. Site seeing is no fun in the rain so we were going to cut it short as we stumbled upon a cafe which I have seen before but haven’t yet tried.

It turns out to be the second oldest building in Halmstad (Aside from the castle and church) and it was absolutely perfect and picturesque! I will definitely be going there more often, they have good coffee, a great selection of tea and a charming…everything. We took quite a few photos and I plan on going back for more! It was nice change to step away from the larger cafe chains in town.

A few hours later we all got dressed up and went to Verona for a nice dinner. They loved the food and really enjoyed the planksteak- success! I really wanted to get a photo of the four of us, but it just never happened. Afterwards we went to another coffee shop until it closed.

Even though the weather was gloomy and it was a holiday we had a great visit and it made me even more excited to visit home in June/July! It was special to have guests from New york after being here only 5 months! I love playing host and showing people around, hopefully next time we have guests we will have more room and nicer weather!


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Witches in Sweden

Today, the Thursday before Easter, when you are out and about in Sweden you might find yourself face to face with a witch. A child pretending to be an Easter witch, “påskkäring” dressed in colorful mismatched aprons and scarfs with painted rosy red and pocked cheeks. Going around dressed as a witch knocking on doors in hopes of candy or money in exchange for a drawing might sound like Halloween to me or any other American, but in Sweden it is part of Swedish Easter tradition. A tradition with roots that reach back hundreds of years.

In the 15-1600’s the Thursday before Easter, “skärtorsdag,” was a dangerous and frightful day; the day when all the witches (häxor) flew to a mountain called blåkulla to visit the devil. This visit was to “meet,”  “party,” “dance,” “dance naked,” or “have sex” with the devil (djävulen) – depending on who you ask or where you read. Regardless of what the witches did with the devil, they had to fly on their broomsticks to & fro over Sweden in order to get there. People made huge fires to ward the witches away from landing near them, they closed their chimney flutes and shutters, they shot into the air. This fear struck on both Thursday and three days later upon their mass return on Saturday. These witches were said to go to church on Sunday with everyone else, but would be discovered because they said their prayers backwards.

The execution of the last witch in Sweden was in 1720, with gruesome witch trials in the 1670s, since then children have started to take on the role of the witches. You will also find many houses witch decorations, both beautiful and ugly. Even the black cat is found, believed to be the devil. It is not only the witches that stuck around throughout the years, but also the fires. If you celebrate Easter in Sweden be prepared to encounter some bonfires and/or  fireworks.

Easter is a very big deal in Sweden, up there with Christmas and Midsommar. Instead of celebrating on Sunday, as I am used to, we celebrate on Saturday in Sweden with a four day holiday. Some Swedes will go to church for pask, but as you can tell by this hexing tradition alone, Swedish Easter predates Christian beliefs. There are also eggs, chickens, rabbits, candy, and more traditions that I am more familiar with that I will go into detail about when I am back from our Easter weekend, “påskhelgen,” with family.

The very first time I came to Sweden it was for Easter three years ago, upon arrival I saw a little girl in the airport dressed as a witch and I thought that either she or I was crazy. Now that I know what it all means I wish I snapped a photo. This might not be my first Easter in Sweden but it all means so much more now, the culture, tradition, food, and language.

Glad påsk! Happy Easter!

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