Photo by Eva Grøndal
Every year on this date there’s “sun” ritual unique to Longyearbyen, even if it features chants, songs and other traditions seen in cultures for thousands of years. But on this particular year it’s the word “ritual” needing quotes around it, because it seems all those words of adoration and coaxing were necessary for an impact that was supernatural instead of just ceremonial.
The Polargospel children’s choir sang their tradition songs, emcee Vigdis Jensen performed the annually familiar “Here Comes The Sun” by The Beatles and just before 12:50 p.m. Tuesday the crowd of many hundreds began the usual chant that (translated in part into English) begins “Sun! Sun! Come Again!”
But after nearly four months without sunlight in the main part of Longyearbyen, still a ray was not to be seen on the cloudy southern horizon.
It’s certainly not a requirement the sun make an appearance during the midday gathering that represents the pinnacle of Solfestuka, a roughly week-long celebration of the return of sunlight to the world’s northernmost town (official schedule). If it were, it might be days or perhaps weeks before the masses could depart in peace since plenty of years there are near-blizzard conditions.
But on this day a hopeful ray (pun intended) among some of those gathered. Most notably (according to Svalbardposten) Tine Westby Thorstad and Mia Ekeblad Eggenfellner, who climbed onto the platform of the wooden stairs of the old hospital building destroyed in World War II and began with The Beatles’ lyrics again after Jensen gave up.
And…there was light.
“The kids sang the clouds away and then came the sun,” observed Eva Grøndal, who posted several photos and a video of the celebration on Facebook.
There were other bright moments during the annual gathering where youths get much of the spotlight. Sofie Maudal, 9, was presented with a framed copy of her winning drawing that is the official Solfestuka logo this year, plus other sun swag.
Women also got their place in the sun (pun also intended) nearby at Svalbard Church as six women presented stories and music during an evening gathered titled “Women Facing The Sun,” after an Edvard Grieg painting of the same name, to commemorate International Women’s Day.
Plenty more bright happenings (officially or coincidentally during Solfestuka) are planned in the coming days – along with some that also serve as a reminder of dark times falling upon some other parts of the world.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – an issue of immense importance to the hundreds of Svalbard residents from those countries – is now a featured theme at the official opening of the Spitsbergen Artists’ Center from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.
“One of the Spitsbergen Artists’ Center rooms will be dedicated to the tragedy happening in that beautiful country,” wrote Elizabeth Bourne, owner of the “new” center in the building Galleri Svalbard occupied for many years. “It will be possible to write down words of love and support which we will afterward share with our friends and relatives in Ukraine. More than that, it will be possible to buy handcrafted items and 100 percent of the donations will go for humanitarian support to Ukraine.”
The opening will begin with a speech by Svalbard Gov. Lars Fause, and feature “live” art by well-known talents with Olaf Storø working on a painting during evening and Stein Henningsen doing one of his “performance art” works at 7 p.m.
Also on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Rabalder will be the traditional Solcafe, featuring sing-alongs of old Svalbard songs, big band music and other merriment.
Another grand opening involving a well-known longtime facility – the Juneau Youth Club – is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday in the upper floor of the expanded Svalbardbutikken building (which is where Galleri Svalbard relocated to as well). The youth club used to be across from Kulturhuset, the site of another Thursday event at 9 p.m. as the “party” band Cocktail Slippers will perform a concert originally scheduled during last month’s Polarjazz festival.
Two events with a child-like spirit are scheduled Saturday, the final day of Solfestuka. At 10 a.m. Artica Svalbard will host a free workshop for up to 10 children to make sun collector window hangings (reserve spaces at firstname.lastname@example.org). At 1 p.m. on the ski hill the annual “Take A Chance” sledding contest – where form often counts for more than function – plus other outdoor snow activities are being hosted by Svalbard Folk High School.