Handheld torches cast a warm light around the monument outside Huset, with many small gnomes waiting to proceed in the torchlight to the base of Mine 2B to deposit their letters with Christmas wishes to Santa Claus in his red postbox. It is a tradition in Longyearbyen and the upper surface installation of the abandoned mine – the "real" home of Santa's workshop – is lit up like a Christmas tree.
But first came Gov. Kjerstin Askholt's turn and she took the opportunity to remind people to enjoy themselves even if it is a community characterized by great uncertainty.
"I think it would be unnatural to not mention it," she said, referring to the crisis at Store Norske.
Governor Kjerstin Askholt talked about uncertainty in the local community as the celebration of Advent was held on Svalbard. FOTO: Eirik Palm
"It's a mood one can feel in the city, from the checkout line at the Coop to people chatting together. So it is important for me to say that we must take care of each other, and simultaneously turn off the switch and enjoy ourselves. Advent is also a time for reflection."
How does she see Longyearbyen's uncertainty affecting the Christmas season?
"I hope that it is possible to do both; that one is able to enjoy themselves even if one has a little uncertainty," said Askholt, adding she is glad to be spending her first Christmas here as governor. "And obviously think a little extra about those affected."
"There have been very many impressions, but mostly positive," she said. "People are very passionate. I think it's great and I hope it can also be a force for Longyearbyen in the future in that we can use the commitment to exciting discussions to bring the city forward. That the discussions about the risks won't that create collisions, but rather we use it as a strength."
Svalbard Church was filled with song and joy during the entrance of Advent. FOTO: Eirik Palm
The Advent program began at Svalbard Church, where early Sunday morning the Christmas tree outside was lit. At 11 a.m., Priest Leif Magne Helgesen welcomed a more-than-packed church to a family service with a baptism and music by Polargospel. About 200 people crammed into the church to take part in the official beginning of the holiday season.
"This is a high number of visitors at a church service", Helgesen said. "The First Sunday of Advent is a day of celebration for many."
"It is timeless with a church," he said. "It stands there in good times and bad."
"Christmas is not just seven varieties
(of cookies) and crispy ribs"
Hand Torches lit up in the dark. FOTO: Eirik Palm
Not just seven varieties
After children dropped their letters off during the torchlight procession the crowd continued its journey down Longyeardalen to the city center. There awaited the traditional mulled wine, gingersnaps, Christmas orchestra, a trio of "Santa's assistants" handing out candy to children and the lighting of the town Christmas tree, which by tradition is a gift from the city of Tromsø.
Anne Lise K. Sandvik delivered a welcoming speech and song before Mayor Arild Olsen got his say.
City Mayor Arild Olsen. FOTO: Eirik Palm
He also urged everyone to give each other an extra thought this Christmas.
"Christmas is not just seven varieties (of cookies) and crispy ribs," he told the crowd of several hundred participating in the countdown to his turning on the lights of the Christmas tree.
Hundreds of people singing Christmas carols as they walked around the Christmas tree on the square in Longyearbyen. FOTO: Eirik Palm
The community's uncertainty, however, did not dampen the festive mood and when the traditional dance around the tree started residents sang at the top of their lungs before Santa's helpers arrived with packages for the little ones.
Advent in Svalbard this year means waiting in a double sense.
"I have obviously been in contact, especially with the Ministry of Justice, but am also taking part in the Polar Affairs Department, where all the ministries are," Askholt said. "I try to convey the current impressions here and try to tell them how silence from Oslo might seem, that it is important that there is a decision. And I convey suggestions that I am picking up here and that I think what is going on is important. I think there have come some great clarifications and I expect, of course, clarifications about Store Norske and the Svalbard 'white paper.' And I, like everyone else, have expectations concerning that."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini