Monday, 26 December 2011

Jyväskylä: Lights for the loved ones

This year there's hardly any snow on the ground at Jyväskylä, Central Finland on Xmas Eve. It means that the cemeteries won't look as amazing as last year when there was plenty of snow and the temperature was so cold that I wore my traditional felt boots - the warmest pair of boots I have - for the day's walk.

There are not too many other walkers about. After all, this is the time of the year when Finns are tucked safely at their homes and relax strictly with family, at least usually. When the clock strikes 12 noon on Xmas Eve, and Turku declares Xmas Peace, it means the start of an almost total holiday for 2 days. Today it is easier to greet the few strangers that also happen to be out walking at this hour. Hyvää joulua (Merry Xmas)!
After 4 kilometres, I reach my destination. Most people seem to have come to Lahjaharju cemetery before me. The cemetery is alight with hundreds, no, probably thousands of candles with which we remember those who have passed away.  It is always a touching site, the lights for the loved ones. There is a constant flow of people coming and going, the sound of lighting matches, candles being lowered on the ground. As of old, some men take their hats off.
For those whose loved ones are not buried at this cemetery, there is a granite memorial at which you can light your candle and stop for a moment. I light my own candles, one by one. This is a time to remember. 
I leave the Lahjaharju cemetery to continue my journey to another one right in the city centre. The usually busy Lohikoskentie road is almost quiet which means a much more pleasant walk. On the way I pass Taulumäki Church where a sermon, one of many at Xmas time, is being held. No stopping for me; my mission tonight is only for the cemeteries.
At the Old Cemetery, off Puistokatu street at city centre, there are many memorials. The one at the right side of the main entrance, close to the chapel, commemorates the ones left behind at Carelia in World War II. Many people with roots in the parts of Carelia that was lost to Russia in the war have lighted their candles here, remembering also their lost homes on the other side of the Eastern border.
A field of lights in the night greets me here as well. Besides the numerous graves at which candles burn, there is a similar memorial as at Lahjaharju cemetery, for those whose loved one is not buried right here.
The war graves are at the other end of the Old Cemetery, with a memorial in the middle. Today, the memorial is guarded by four soldiers in arms, in honour of the ones who gave their lives for Finland in WW2. At 6 p.m., there is a change of guards, and to my pleasant surprise the replacements do not seem to be carrying guns. Peace!
I leave the cemetery that is now even more peaceful. Outside its gates, at Jyväskylä city centre, far fewer people seem to be about so it looks almost deserted. Not quite though; Old Bricks pub has just opened its doors for those who need to warm up or would like to have some company, or maybe just be in a place where there are other people. The simple Xmas decoration, a big star shines bright above Kauppakatu street and its compass symbol. Let there be Peace on Earth.

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