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Songs in a cemetery, or a candlelit Christmas Eve tradition

A Finnish Christmas Eve tradition involves bringing candles to the graves of loved ones that have passed on. One Kuopio park master says that singing, too, is allowed at gravesites.

Light-sea: the Rautavaara cemetery in Eastern Finland, on Christmas Eve. Image: Minna Keinänen / Yle

In the middle of the darkest time of the year, thousands of Finns make miniature pilgrimages to the graves of their friends and loved ones, each bringing with them a candle to light. Finnish cemeteries at Christmas are a sight to behold.

"It can only be described as a sea of light," says park master Aarne Laukkanen from the Kuopio Evangelical Lutheran parish.

Church workers welcome all visitors and say they consider the gesture to be an important gesture of remembrance.

Safety tips and energy

Plastic-shelled candles should not be placed near to one another to avoid a fiery chain reaction at gravesides.

"There is no risk of a fire exactly, but the ensuing soot can stain the headstones," Laukkanen says.

Once the candles have burned out they become rubbish, a huge amount of which is collected in cemeteries yearly. The Kuopio parish collects some 3,500 kilos of metal waste and as much as 160 tonnes of mixed waste. However, the waste is not wasted.

"All the mixed trash is burned to create heat energy at the Riikinneva incineration plant in Leppävirta," says Laukkanen.

True Christmas spirit

Park master Laukkanen says that cemetery visitors do well to respect others and take care while walking along narrow paths in the slippery dark.

Graveyards have a reputation for being eerie at worst and peacefully silent at best, but other sounds – such as singing – are far from banned in these hallowed places.

"I wish people would sing! It creates a beautiful atmosphere," Laukkanen says.

The park master recalls a meeting with a family whose mother had passed away that same year.

"The family members sang the mother's favourite Christmas song. It was so touching."