Polar night, Norwegian and Russian children’s event lights up Christmas

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BARENTSBURG, NORWAY (AP) — A 15-year-old boy in a polar bear hoodie takes turns reading the Gospel about the birth of Jesus at a Russian Orthodox Christmas celebration, while three people in dresses and bows girl declared it in Norwegian. Deep in the North Pole, undimmed by war and his round-the-clock polar night.

The girls and a dozen fellow members of the Polar Gospel, the only church children’s choir in Svalbard, an archipelago closer to the Arctic than Oslo or Moscow, traveled three hours by boat on Saturday to support 40 children. celebrated the holiday with us in Barentsburg.

At noon in the snow-covered square of this village owned by the Russian Arctic Mining Company, the full moon illuminates a bust of Lenin, a large twinkling Christmas tree and an even larger one that reads ‘Our goal is communism’. Standing in front of an old monument. Cyrillic letters.

Here in the far north the sun never rises in winter.

“Those of us who live in the north in the dark know how much light means,” said Reverend Shiv Rimstrand, a thin yellow candle popular in Orthodox churches after the gospel reading. I said as I handed them out to the children. “Even a single window candle is enough to find each other’s way.”

Annual Christmas by the Lutheran minister of the Svalbard Church and other leaders from the main settlement of the Longyearbyen archipelago, 34 nautical miles from Barentsburg through a fjord surrounded by majestic white mountains Visiting traditions were interrupted during the pandemic. It was again called into question by the war in Ukraine, which disrupted even occasional visits by Orthodox priests.

For 18 months, no one celebrates worship in Barentsburg’s tall wooden chapel. Always open, its light shines like a beacon through the windows towards the modern apartment complexes of the miners and the sea.

That is why Rimstrand worked with church choirmasters and Barentsburg school teachers to create a program that stripped them of official duties for the past two months. The program’s songs and short narration focused on his message of light and peace in the dark, the Christmas Gospel.

As she put together her remarks while aboard a large vessel loaned by the governor of Svalbard, Rimstrand was unsure if she would even offer a formal blessing at the end of her performance.

But the atmosphere was so festive that she took the Old Testament verse, “May the Lord bless you and keep you,” to the church staff, her parents in Longyearbyen, and her teachers in Barentsburg. , and addressed the audience, including the general manager sitting discreetly in the back. Arktikgol, the mining company that runs the town.

For more than a century, mining has formed permanent settlements in Svalbard, such as Longyearbyen, with about 2,000 inhabitants, and Barentsburg, with about 350 inhabitants. Despite being a Norwegian territory, the Soviet Union was a party to her early 20th-century treaty, which allowed other countries to share mining rights, and Arcticugol continued to operate Russian mines. increase.

During the Cold War, tensions between the two Svalbard islands increased, as did the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the overtransit of Barentsburg’s food supplies in July. In October, the Svalbard Tourism Council, representing the archipelago’s growing leisure industry, announced the closure of Arktikgol’s tourism sector in protest of the war.

But church members approved the choir’s Christmas visit, Limstrand said. This is to help children pray for everyone, especially in such remote communities, without seeing each other as enemies.

“We are so far away that I feel connected to the world,” she told The Associated Press, adding that her responsibilities as pastor in Svalbard extend beyond the Protestant herd to a “spiritual He added that it is to guarantee “hospitality”.

Leonard Snoeks says his 10-year-old daughter used to fundraise for Ukraine and sell waffles and coffee outside her home in Norway, but since moving to Svalbard six months ago She had no qualms about going on a choir trip with her new friends. Mainland Norway.

“Things are as they are, but you can’t separate the fact that people are people,” Snooks said. “It’s really important for church choirs to look ahead and show that you care.”

To emphasize that this was not a diplomatic overture, but a child-to-child ministry, Saturday’s celebration was held at a school in Barentsburg.

The Russian program was followed by a Norwegian choir performance. Since most families in Barentsburg are Ukrainian, it included the world-famous poem Carol of the Bells, first written in Ukraine a century ago, and its translation in that language. .

Svetlana Janevska, assistant director of the school since May, sang carols a cappella with the students.

She later explained that keeping religious traditions together is especially important this year. From preparing for performances to going to homes in Barentsburg on Christmas Eve to share sweets like kutia, rice pudding with nuts and raisins.

“Children everywhere are children. Our goal is that all children are happy and safe,” said Yanevska.

The first Russian number opened in total darkness, with young children in white costumes dancing and rhythmically waving flashlights as a projection of Santa’s sleigh moved past a mural of Donald Duck onto the wall. .

Maria Harcheva, an English teacher at the school who recently moved here from Russia, explained that the rays symbolize “the star in the night sky where the Savior was born.”

“I am a religious person. This holiday is very important to me. It symbolizes purity and warmth,” Halcheva said. She missed having an Orthodox priest at Christmas, but she was delighted with this “unusual” celebration that her children had worked so hard to prepare.

Followed by Napoleon cake, Russian tea and coke. A clunky bus then drove the Norwegian group through the snow-covered streets back to the port and back home.


AP’s religious coverage is supported through a partnership between AP and The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.


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