Sunday, 1 January 2012

Postcards in Memory of My Grandparents

Christmas Eve CandlesOne of the most touching Norwegian Christmas traditions that I have learned about is that of lighting a candle for family members who are no longer here. The ritual is pretty simple: on Christmas Eve you go to the place where the person is buried, light a candle, and place it next to their headstone. The candles burn for a long time, often for over 4 days.

As the Gorrissen family were preparing to observe this year’s rite, I asked if I could participate as well and light a candle for my grandparents. They said yes.

Despite declining church attendance, on Christmas Eve day many Norwegians turn out at graveyards all over the country just to light candles and to remember. This photo is of a normally empty street next to the Ris Kirke. It is about 3:00 pm on Christmas Eve and as you can see, it is jammed with people and cars. By the way, you can just catch a glimpse of the cemetery on the right-hand side of the street.

Christmas Eve Candles


Upon entering the churchyard, one of the things I noticed first was that some people also lay a wreath when they place their candle.

Christmas Eve Candles


I’m not a cemetery fan. They usually give me the willies (which, if you are not familiar with that term, are also known as the heebee jeebees or the cold shivers). However, I found the cemetery at Ris Kirke to be very lovely. It is nestled into the hill that leads up to the church, with many trees and plants growing on the grounds. The headstones are mostly natural boulders. I didn’t see many of the manufactured type that dominate Canada's more orderly and structured cemeteries. This, plus the fact that most of the wreaths laid were from evergreen boughs, gave me the feeling of being in a forest rather than feeling I was in a graveyard.

Christmas Eve Candles

Christmas Eve Candles


The Gorrissens turning out for the event were Ingeborg, Petter, Nina, and Sissel. The young Santa you see is Lloyd Luiggi-Campbell, who is no relation to me but is part of Sissel’s extended family.

Christmas Eve Candles


Before lighting the candle, Sissel explained to me who the people in the grave were: Magdalene (her Great-grandmother), Willy (her Great-grandfather), Johan (her Grandfather), Esther (her Great-aunt), and Inger (her Grandmother).

Christmas Eve Candles


After Sissel lit the Gorrissen candle, I lit a candle for my grandparents: Blanche, Roy, Harold, and Lovetta. These four people were very special to me when I was growing up. I learned so much from each of them and I quite miss them. I guess life is like that: you miss most what you no longer have. So I thought that lighting a candle to mark my memory of them was a great idea.

Christmas Eve Candles


I thought afterwards about how many people I saw there. I had never seen so many people in a cemetery before. At 3 in the afternoon, most of the grave markers already had at least one candle lit. I wondered what it would look like in the dark with so many candles burning. I went back after supper to find out.

It was very dark when I entered the burial ground, but like miniature lighthouses, the candles guided me straight to the Gorrissen marker. The light from candles next to the headstone, and also from the candles at the surrounding headstones, was very comforting.

Streetlights, which give off an orange light that usually seems quite odd but which on this occasion seemed quite appropriate, lit up the overcast night sky, sending a warm light down from above as well.

With all of this warm light, the white light used to illuminate the church tower seemed quite discordant. This cold and bright light was like an orchestra musician whose out-of-tune instrument makes him stand out in a bad way.

Christmas Eve Candles


I turned around and walked down the hill in order to take in more of the scene. I can’t really describe what I saw, nor do I think this insignificant photograph can convey how soothing I found the sight of an entire churchyard lit up with red and yellow candlelight.

Christmas Eve Candles

What you cannot see in the photo is that all of the candle flames were flickering. It was as if there were many conversations underway; the kind you see in a cozy restaurant at night, with people crouched over candles in front of them, intent on their discussion and not noticing how their breath makes the flames jump as they speak.

The footprints in the snow erased the normally solitary feeling that graveyards have, and replaced it with the same feeling of “busy-ness” that homes get at Christmas time.

For a cemetery to feel warmly alive, on a day that traditionally sees families getting together, I thought was entirely fitting. I’m sure my grandparents would agree.

Christmas Eve Candles


I returned to the grave marker on New Year’s Eve and lit another candle. Just because.


A slide show with larger images from this post is here.


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Here is a quick index of my Postcard blog articles for this trip:

My post about some Accidental Abstracts I made during this trip is here.

My post about skiing in Oslo and some Postcards taken with my phone's camera is here.

My post about a side trip I made to Uppsala, Sweden and some early morning streetscapes I made is here.

My post about a fabulous stay I had at Brumma, a cabin above the tree line in Brummastølen, is here.

My post about the wonderful Norwegian Christmas Eve tradition of lighting a candle at the grave of family is here.

My post about my adventure in a hut up in the boreal forest canopy is here.

My post about a wonderful little church I discovered while up above the Arctic Circle is here.

My post about the commonality of fishing between Norway and Newfoundland is here.

My post about being above the Arctic Circle during the polar night is here.

My post about the Nobel Peace Prize fakkeltog is here.


1 comment:

slang09 said...

Very interesting blog Scott...I had no idea of such a tradition; thanks for sharing. Sherry