Go Fish: Minnesota Pastor Writes Obituary For Church’s Lutefisk Dinner Tradition

Newspaper notice reports that the fishy custom “has peacefully died at the age of 70”
Lutefisk
Alexander Mychko | Dreamstime.com

Minnesota pastor John Klawiter wanted to bid a formal farewell to his church’s 70-year tradition of lutefisk dinners. So he wrote the meal a newspaper obituary.

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If you didn’t grow up in Minnesota or with Scandinavian relatives, you may not be familiar with lutefisk. It’s … not for everyone. It’s whitefish that is soaked in lye (yes, the same caustic substance that can dissolve human bodies), then soaked in cold water for days, cooked, and eaten by the very bravest of the brave.

Lutefisk dinners are a Minnesota holiday season tradition – and as a Minnesota native now living in a Scandinavian neighborhood of Seattle, I can confidently say we have them here too.

Klawiter’s Faith Lutheran Church in Forest Lake, Minnesota, north of St. Paul, held Scandinavian dinners featuring lutefisk and other dishes for 70 years, but the dinner held Dec. 4 will be the last.

In November, Klawiter’s obit for the dinner appeared in the Forest Lake Times.

“Faith Lutheran Scandinavian Dinner, also known as ‘The Lutefisk Dinner’ or ‘Holy Tuesday.’ has peacefully died at the age of 70,” Klawiter wrote. “The Scandinavian Dinner will be remembered for all of the familiar faces that reunited each year over a wonderful meal of lutefisk, meatballs, potatoes, lefse, bread, cranberries, and coleslaw. And butter or cream for the lutefisk — LOTS of butter. The meal had a great sense of humor, including jokes like. ‘The piece of Cod which far surpasses all our human understanding.’”

That last bit is a twist on a bible quote, Philippians 4:7 – replace “piece of Cod” with “peace of God” to get the joke.

Klawiter did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he told the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune newspaper that he himself is a “lutefisk convert." The pastor said he hoped the eulogy for the dinner paid tribute to the seven decades the church has served hundreds of pounds of the infamous dish. The dinner was a lot of work for the church, requiring nearly 200 volunteers, but there are hopes of starting a new tradition to bring people together in a similar way, he said.

“There was a lot of pride that this made it to 70 years,” he told the paper.

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Whether or not you’re brave enough to try lutefisk when you get a chance, there are plenty of unusual customs out there to investigate. Here are 25 American traditions we don’t know are weird.