Candles for the dead

Candles for the dead

Dear Christmas-lovers out there.

My Christmas is not very different from the ones described in the other articles on Norwegian Christmas, though I don’t think it’s fair to say that urban people fake their celebration, whereas country folk do it the traditional way. You can probably find people who buy the cookies everywhere, and most Norwegians really like the festive spirit of Christmas, whether they live in a city or in a rural area.

But there is one tradition that no one has mentioned, and that is the lighting of candles on the graves of loved ones. My family does this instead of going to mass. I think it’s the most beautiful part of Christmas.

At the end of December, the days are very short in Norway. The sun comes up for only a few hours around noon. The rest of the time,we are steeped in a darkness which is blueish at first, and which becomes pitch-black as evening approaches.

So on Christmas eve, at two o’clock in the afternoon,when we head for the churchyard,the world is already turning a deep and chilly blue.

The churchyard in the town I live is especially beautiful. It lies out by the sea, but is sheltered from the ocean winds by a copse of evergreens. A small stone chapel rests in the center of the area, but it is not the main feature. The graves are. They crowd the lawns, marked by stones, which on this day are invariably dark grey from the damp winter air. Many families have familiy graves,small lots decorated by plants and statues, and separated by fences and vases from the rest of the yard.

There are people on all the paths, bundled up in warm clothes and whispering and laughing together. Neighbours stop to wish each other a merry Christmas.

Snow cracks crisply under our feet as we make our way to the graves of our dead family members. We bring flower wreaths and candles and lanterns, and we decorate the graves as we talk of good times that we shared.

And as the blue gloom turns black, the whole churchyard sparkles with tiny lights, which continue to shine long after we have left for home and our celebration.


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