In polar night, Norway-Russia kids event lights up Christmas

BARENTSBURG, Norway (AP) — A 15-year-old boy in a polar bear hoodie took turns reading the Gospel passage about Jesus’s birth in Russian with three girls in dresses and bows who proclaimed it in Norwegian, in a shared celebration of Orthodox Christmas deep in the Arctic undimmed by war and the round-the-clock polar night.

The girls and a dozen of their fellow members of Polargospel, the children’s choir at the only church in Svalbard — an archipelago closer to the North Pole than to either Oslo or Moscow — traveled three hours by boat Saturday to mark the holiday with the 40 children in Barentsburg.

At midday in the snow-covered square of this village owned by Russia’s Arctic mining company, a full moon illuminated a bust of Lenin standing in front of a big, twinkling Christmas tree and an even larger old monument reading «Our goal is Communism» in Cyrillic script.

This far north, the sun never rises in winter.

«We who live in the north in darkness, we know how much the light means, ”said the Rev. Siv Limstrand as she handed out the slim yellow candles popular in Orthodox churches to the children after the Gospel reading. «Even one weak candle in the window is enough to find the way to each other.»

The tradition of an annual Christmas visit by the Lutheran pastor of Svalbard Church and other leaders from the archipelago’s main settlement of Longyearbyen — 34 nautical miles away from Barentsburg through a fjord hemmed by majestic white mountains — was suspended during the pandemic. It was put in doubt again by the war in Ukraine, which also disrupted the occasional visits by Orthodox priests.

For 18 months, none has come to celebrate services in Barentsburg’s tall, wooden chapel filled with icons. It’s always open, its light shining like a beacon through the windows toward the miners’ modern apartment complexes and out to sea.

So for the last couple of months, Limstrand worked with the church’s choir director and with the teachers at Barentsburg’s school to create a program stripped of officialdom, whose songs and short narrations focused on the Christmas Gospel message of light and peace in the darkness.

As she finalized her remarks while on the big ship Svalbard’s governor lent for the occasion, Limstrand said she wasn’t even sure if she’d offer a formal blessing at the end of the performance.

But the atmosphere had become so festive that she did invoke the Old Testament’s «The Lord bless you and keep you» verse to the audience that included church staff, parents from Longyearbyen, teachers from Barentsburg and, seated unobtrusively in the back, the general manager of Arcticugol, the mining company that runs the town.

For more than a century, mining has driven permanent settlements in Svalbard, including Longyearbyen, with about 2,000 residents, and Barentsburg, where about 350 people live. Even though it’s Norway’s territory, the Soviet Union was party to an early 20th century treaty that allowed other countries to share in mining rights, and Arcticugol continues to operate Russia’s mine.

Ссылка на официальный источник: apnews.com

In polar night, Norway-Russia kids event lights up Christmas