Great. Now even the sun is fake news.
Not that any of the hundreds of people cared as the sun made a glorious appearance over the southern mountains under a cloudless sky at about 12:50 p.m. Friday during the annual return-of-the-sun festival Friday on the old hospital steps near Svalbard Church.
“The sun is back in Longyearbyen!” came the emcee’s shout as the crowd roared and, yes, that much is true enough. It was also one of the most spectacular sunrises among the decades of celebrations, which often are partially or completely obscured by clouds, as only the mildest of breezes added to the minus 18 degrees Celsius chill.
But contrary to the annual proclamations in everything from local Tweets to global headlines, it wasn’t for the first time this year on those ceremonial stairs as the first rays of light actually touched them briefly exactly 24 hours earlier.
“I was really bewildered, not expecting it,” Marion Prudhon, a guide and occasional staff writer for Icepeople, wrote in an e-mail. She was on a tour with Birgit Edgeworth of Austrailia, when they visited the stairs from the hospital that was destroyed in World War II on the day before the ceremony.
“I came here last year to the North Pole, and I heard about the stairs and the sun coming back on March 8, so I wanted to come back this year and see it,” Edgeworth said. Alas, she was going on a trip outside of town on Friday, but nonetheless got to enjoy “dozens of seconds” in the light at the famous spot.
“I don’t want to speak too much about it, but this is fantastic – this was my goal and I saw it,” she said.
Such “off-date” appearances happen from time to time due to leap year, tiny shifts in the sun’s long-term cycle and so on. Besides, most folks already know Longyearbyen’s first official sunrise was Feb. 16 and plenty of them ventured beyond the mountains keeping the town in shadow to feel the first rays and share photos of them with the world before the ceremonial date.
So the light and warmth of the ceremony – the highlight of the weeklong Solfestuka festival that is Longyearbyen’s most-popuar annual event –are as much about the community as actually getting to see the sun. As always, the 20-minute gathering was dominated by the children’s music group Polargospel, which spent most of their time on the steps singing several traditional sun songs and then helping lead the crowd in the chant to coax the sun to peer over the horizon (which in English translates to “Sun, sun come again! The sun is our best friend!” – but rest assured the cadence and rhyme is vastly superior in Norwegian).
First, however, another annual ritual took place as Ingeborg Andersen, 11, a fifth-grade student, was presented with a framed copy of the sun she drew that was selected as the official Solfestuka logo in a competition among local students. Also in typical fashion, she was somewhat brief when answering questions about what inspired her drawing and what the sun’s return means to her, also she didn’t shy away from noting she really wished she could have included red in the design, but the rules limited her to four colors.
Then it was time for the annual chant and, if the crowd missed the early first appearance, at least the spirit of seeking an early arrival prevailed as the shouts began a good seven minutes before the edge of the solar orb appeared, resulting in a few short interludes while everyone gave their vocal cords a rest.
But appear it did to rousing applause, after which a good portion of the crowd departed for warmer spaces and/or to get back to work after what subjectively might be considered one of the best TGIF lunch breaks possible anywhere on Earth. Others stayed for the traditional post-ceremony “sun buns” and food/drinks nearby at Svalbard Church.
The festival’s youth-oriented focus will continue tonight with a party for students at the Longyearbyen Youth Club and an afternoon of outdoor recreation/music/food at the just-opened ski hill near the center of town starting at 1 p.m. Saturday. There will also be concerts starting at 7 p.m. Saturday at Kulturhuset by the trio of Liv Mari Schei, Trond Breen and Finn Sletten, followed by a swing-dance concert by the Longyearbyen Big Band. Polargospel will also be featured during a Mass with Communion at 11 a.m. at Svalbard Church.