CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS AT WHATEVER IS YOUR SPEED: Full stocking of lively and leisurely traditional Svalbard events gets going, even in this year gone viral

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Outside in the snow and wind there were racers, both fleet of foot and strolling with strollers. Inside a city made of cookies crafted by homebodies in cozy kitchens got underway from its own starting line.

Both are just the prelude to more than a month of traditional holiday happenings in Longyearbyen that will really light up beginning Sunday, despite the darkness cast over the community by the polar night and COVID-19 crisis.

About 80 kids and adults participated in the annual “Christmas Mile” race at midday Saturday that started/ended outside Kulturhuset. English translation of the race’s name notwithstanding, nobody actually ran/walked a mile – kids scampered through an 870-meter course, “sprinters” a 3.3-kilometer loop and winter weekend warriors a 9.9-kilometer triple circuit. While masks were the hot item of debate for group gatherings in much of the world leading up to the weekend, there was a different priority in this cool community.

“Remember reflectors that must be visible when you have a race number on and warm clothes,” Elisabeth Leinan Johannessen, one of the Svalbard Turn officials organizing the race, declared in a registration notice.

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A gingerbread replica of the historic power station in Pyramiden created by Longyearbyen students is among the sweet structures being featured in this year’s gingerbread village display, which will be unveiled at about 1 p.m. Sunday at Kulturhuset. Photo by Tone Løvberg.

At about the same time inside the cultural center dropoffs began for an annual gingerbread village display, with this year’s theme featuring the notorious international homes and other buildings  in Longyearbyen and Svalbard. Among this year’s sweet structures is a replica of the power station in the abandoned Russian mining settlement of Pyramiden created by students of Tone Løvberg, who is organizing this year’s effort.

The cookie constructions will be unveiled as a whole at “about” 1 p.m. Sunday in the center’s Rabalder cafe, according to Løvberg. That gather is merely among the first of many on the first Sunday of Advent that will spark the spirit of the season into full swing.

Other early activities Sunday include a traditional Christmas meal at Huset’s bistro from noon-3 p.m. and a music worship hosted by Svalbard Church featuring the Longyearbyen Mixed Choir in Huset’s theater at 2 p.m.

At 3 p.m. the “brightest” part of the celebration begins with traditional candlelight procession to the center of town, with a stop a few hundred meters away at a special mailbox at the base of Mine 2B for kids to mail their letters to Santa (since his real workshop is in the mine and not that place made popular by fake news at 90 degrees north). From there the procession will progress to the miner’s statue in the town center, where Christmas music from the Longyearbyen Big Band, speeches and tales, and the lighting of the town Christmas tree – and the circular songs/dances around it – will begin at 4 p.m.

Following the tree lighting, Santa (who actually will look like a few of them because he’s just capable of such things) will pass out treats to children. A story time will follow inside at Longyearbyen Library at 4:45 p.m., while outside Green Dog Svalbard will host what might be called a “happiness is a warm husky” gathering in a kennel from 4:30-6 p.m.

The day will conclude with two newly released holiday movies at Kulturhuset, beginning at 5:30 p.m. with the children’s film “Christmas at Cattle Hill” and concluding at 8 p.m. with the Norwegian comedy “Gledelig Jul.”