My wife Mirja and I have a cabin on her family's land in the Northern Savonia region of Eastern Finland. We visited for Christmas. We continue our series.
Tonight it’s grown colder. Not by much but you can tell. We’ve spent the afternoon in Finnish tradition, lighting candles at ancestors’ graves. We visited four cemeteries, in Leppävirta, Saahkarlahti, Luttila and near here, at Koönönpelta. We’ve seen the patriarchs, men who fought in the war of independence, fathers and grandfathers and great uncles.
Shops were locked tight, so the cemeteries were the most populated places in Finland. So many candles at so many graves that it made you think Finns born around here stay around here.
Such a majority of graves were lit that 1. There must be an entire industry supplying the candles (They look like they all come from the same factory. They’re sheltered by a particular casing to keep snow from putting them out), and 2. Peer pressure must turn people out so that Uncle Hari’s isn’t the only unlit grave.
It’s quite a sight, and it’s really touching. At every cemetery, there’s a bunch of candles all grouped around one place to honor people not fortunate enough to be interred close to home.
From 2:30, in a firm, snowy dusk, we toured highways and snow covered, scantly-traveled back roads until 5:30 or so, and then had the traditional Christmas dinner (on Christmas Eve) and exchanged gifts.
There was a service at 8:00 Christmas morning at the church in Lepaävirta and we drove over. Quiet, country roads. The whole earth, the farmhouses and the fields, everything was still and twilight-blue in the cool of the snow, and the land seemed to lay asleep and felt very much at peace.
Mirja said later that the preacher’s cadence was painfully slow, and I thought so too, but it pleasantly drifted by, soothing and nice. Of course, I wasn’t laden by the message. I understood scantly beyond Jesus and Christus.
The Lepaävirta church is more impressive than you’d expect in a largely non-practicing Christian place like Finland. It’s a tall building, maybe the tallest in town, and it was three quarters full. Because it was Christmas, I guess.
I asked if the church was called anything other than “Lepaävirta Lutheran Church,” but it’s not even that, it’s just Lepaävirta Church. In an 80 percent Lutheran land, it would only be called the Lepaävirta Something Church if it were another denomination.
The Finnish branch of our family owns a few tiny, rustic cabins along the lakefront, inherited from the past, all of them in various stages of restoration. We went down to the one they call Markku’s cabin, which is on an inlet, a little bay maybe just 100 meters across. It was much more frozen than where we stay, on more open water.
There may have appeared to be more ice than there was because snow covered the surface, but it was hard to tell in the dark. Still, the water around the little dock (for row boats, not bigger vessels) was slushy, and you wouldn’t venture to walk on it.
We fired up the sauna there (there’s a sauna everywhere) and we watched the news on TV. Christmas atrocities this year featured Nigerian Muslims versus Christians. Besides that and an oil spill in the Bay of Bothnia, it didn’t seem like there was much news on the holiday, and there didn’t need to be.
It was just above zero Celsius, and becoming a tire-spinning mess. There was enough snow that it wouldn’t all melt, but the eves were dripping.
Do Finns appreciate the relative warmth or would they prefer a firmly white Christmas? They’d prefer a white Christmas.
This weather, what can you do? If it were ten degrees colder you could go skiing, do all kinds of things. Mind you, it’s usually too cold, that’s for sure, but this weather is good for nothing.
It’s Sunday night now. YLE predicts the strongest storm of the season tomorrow. If the planes fly we can get to Lapland, and that’s good for us. The weather will push through and leave Tuesday or Wednesday night clear for the aurora. At least that’s what we hope.