| ||ACTIVITIES and EVENTS|
Getting out and about in Sweden is largely dictated by the weather. When winter hits, there is skating wherever the ice is thick enough. Stockholm's lake and canal system is exploited by the local children and enthusiasts seeking the longest possible 'run'. Downhill and cross-country skiing are popular at the resorts around Siljan and at the ski centres of Västmanland and Stockholm. Cycling around the flat lake country of Skåne or on Öland and Gotland islands becomes an especially attractive option when Sweden thaws out. If you'd rather be on the water, there are heaps of canoeing possibilities from the excellent areas on the lakes to the exciting northern river rapids.
Hiking and orienteering are popular everywhere, with many families forming orienteering teams for weekend competitions. Sareks National Park is probably Sweden's most spectacular area for hiking, but is recommended for experienced hikers only. Beach umbrellas may be less useful than ear muffs here, but Sweden does have some good swimming beaches, especially east of Uppsala. Diving is popular along the eastern coast where it's possible to swim close to the resident seal populations. Viewing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is most spectacular from the mountains in the north. And if this all sounds a bit ho-hum, there's talk of a sunken wreck somewhere off the southeastern coast laden with treasure from the Thirty Years War. Stop complaining about the price of a beer and go salvage!
Midsummer, held at summer solstice, is Sweden's most enthusiastically celebrated festival. Pagan rites, such as maypole dancing, mingle with public holiday tie-loosening and liberal helpings of schnapps. The Lucia festival (13 December) has only been celebrated for about 60 years but has become very popular. As well as commemorating the martyrdom of a pious Sicilian girl, Lucia celebrates the coming of Christmas with processions of robed youngsters, plenty of glögg (a hot alcoholic fruit's punch) for the grownups, and singing. Christmas trees are decorated with straw animals and stars, cookie baking begins, and Santa Claus makes his final assessments of children's behaviour and does the last minute shopping. Santa obviously favours Swedish kids as he delivers presents in person rather than just chucking them down the chimney. Most households serve up ham at Christmas time, and many families still partake in the tradition of 'dipping in the pot' when slices of bread are soaked in ham juices.
New Year's Eve is a highly social time when friends get together, often setting off fireworks. Easter in Sweden incorporates the pagan belief that witches hang out with the devil in hell for the duration. Kids dressed up as witches doorknock houses in their neighbourhood, scamming lollies in exchange for drawings. Walpurgis Night (30 April) is a pagan festival celebrating the end of winter with bonfires and fireworks. May Day (1 May) is observed by marches and labour movement events.
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