It’s cold and dark in Helsinki. Minus 10 Celsius with a bitter wind blowing off the Baltic. Snowing too. Coming down sideways, blinding at times and so cold the snow doesn’t really collect on the ground but just blows around like sawdust that squeaks when you walk on it. The sun doesn’t make an appearance until 9 am and then slinks back down around 3:30 pm.
At this time of darkness, when the pagan calendar marks the longest night of the year, towns all over Scandinavia crown a local beauty that year’s Saint Lucia. Last weekend Tyler and I braved the cold outside of Helsinki’s Cathedral to watch the procession.
It’s a beautiful ceremony. Rich with tradition and history. We arrived at 5 pm to an almost empty square and watched as torches were lit and friends gathered. By 6 pm a small crowd had gathered up near the Cathedral door, mostly for warmth as we huddled together and tried to stay warm.
When she emerged it was unworldly. A band played softly the traditional procession march (oddly, it’s the Neapolitan aria Santa Lucia) and her train slowly marched down the Cathedral steps. All dressed in virginal white with candles in her hair. The light, the light! The crowd was transfixed by the silent beauty and hope that came from this simple ceremony in the dead of Winter.
It’s good to know that the days will be getting longer now, the sun sticking gaining strength. That night, along with the rest of Finland, we celebrated turning a corner.