Runa's Oracle ♥
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that receives it.”
― Edith Wharton
The Hjarta Centennial: A Solstice Story
Written by Michele Jennae (aka Runa Heilung) ©2015
Population 632, Hjarta, Norway: It was a tiny little town along the Altafjord that no one had heard of, except those who lived there. Because of the Hjarta spirit, no one ever seemed to have the want or need to leave.
It was December 21st, and the town was abustle with excitement and preparation. With only little more than 5 hours of daylight, or perhaps just a dayglow, there was much to do in little time.
For most of the residents, this would be a once in a life-time event. The centennial celebration was much like a Yuletide and a Sankta Lucia festival, but there was one element that differed from any other town in the Nordic region. There would be a competition to choose and crown the Hjarta Maiden.
It was the mayor’s duty to guide the townsfolk in the preparations and he only had the written stories of centennial celebrations past to guide him. Of course, in the dark of winter, after chores were done and families huddled around their fires in their rustic homes, stories and fiskesuppe (fish stew) were what they lived on.
The town scurried to prepare a communal meal, including the traditional lussekat or saffron rolls that they would all share once the sun went down. They cordoned off the town square and decorated rustic tables and benches with pine branches. No work was to be done after sunset, and the festivities would be carried out only under the light of torches, and would last until sunup.
Birgitta and Hadda, while friends, would be competing for the crown of candles to be placed on one of their heads following the evening’s festivities, just before dawn. While they both knew about the Centennial celebrations of the past through stories, much of it remained a mystery, including what would earn them the crown.
Each girl dutifully braided the front section of her hair and pinned it back to give the crown a place to rest should she be chosen. They each dressed in a white dress with red sash, donning warm undergarments and boots to stay warm.
At the appointed time, each girl took their place on the hastily built but sturdy platform in the center of town The townsfolk were given small ceremonial candles and then asked to stand on one side of the platform or the other. Here they would await the competition that would inaugurate this year's festivities.
Each girl was given a pillar candle and a box of matches. Their task was to light the candles of their respective half of the townsfolk, before the other one could finish. The girls weren't told how many matches they had, but a simple glance at the box would indicate there were far more people with unlit candles than matches. Every resident above the age of three held a candle in an old pewter candleholder.
Hadda loved Birgitta, but she was a sly one, and hoped to win this competition. Birgitta, much more humble, only wished for the best maiden to win. In her heart, she wanted very badly to be crowned the Hjarta Maiden, but she also wanted the crown to go to the best representative of the title.
The town’s mayor took his place on the platform as the sunglow began to fade, and raising his voice in the chilled air, called for the attention of all gathered there. No one would miss the night’s events unless they were bedridden. Even Olga and Berge, the resident centenarian couple were in attendance. At 101 and 103 years respectively, they were the only ones who had been around for the last centennial celebration, though they had no memory of it. They were also Birgitta’s great grandparents.
Each girl, the mayor explained, was chosen because of the proximity of her fifteenth birthday to the centennial date. Only two could be chosen, and Hadda and Birgitta's birthdays had just passed within two months of the anniversary of the Hjarta founding. Their task was simply to light the candles of each of the townsfolk on their side of the platform, the town having been divided to either side by lots.
When one side of the town had all their candles lit, a representative from their side would light the communal bonfire in the middle of the square, essentially starting the party.
“How do I light everyone’s candle with only this box of matches?” Hadda whispered to Birgitta.
“I don’t really know,” her friend replied. Birgitta didn’t know any better than Hadda at this point.
“Unge damer,” said the mayor. “You may begin.”
Hadda grabbed her box of matches and descended from the platform into her appointed crowd. She began frantically striking the matches, one by one, trying to light the candles of those before her. Her hands were cold, and she could barely get one to light before she lost 2 or three to breakage from the force of her shivers. She glanced over at Birgitta who was just barely lighting one candle – her own – and smiled mischievously. “Silly Birgitta, you are wasting time,” Hadda thought. She had always thought Birgitta to be sweet but more than slightly naive. Hadda quickly had a dozen candles lit, as the townspeople began to sing as their candles were set aflame.
Birgitta was patient. Her fingers were also cold and matches were breaking as she struck them. Once she had one lit, she held it to her large pillar candle and waited to be sure that the wick was properly burning before she used the match to light her little sister Greta’s candle beneath her. “Stay by me, sweet Greta. Stay warm.” Birgitta, began to mill through her side of the population lighting their candles from her own. She would put out her hand in silent request to take each of their candles and then tilt the wick into her flame, setting it afire. Her eyes glowed with warmth as she handed each candle back. They too began to sing.
Meanwhile, Hadda had lit about 50 or so candles but had wasted as many matches, forgetting that her candle was still on the platform. There would be time for that later, but she spied Birgitta’s box of matches on the table and mentally scratched her head. Still, she didn’t take time to think. She had to get the rest of the candles lit. She pushed her way into the throng with her box of matches continuing to strike as many as she struck out. Her poor fingers were freezing, but she pushed on. She had to win the Hjarta Maiden crown.
Birgitta methodically worked her way through her people, who seemed to be forming a circle around her, keeping her and six year old Greta warm. Now, as she had about 100 or so candles lit, they were forming circles within circles, also singing and swaying. Little Greta was mesmerized but stayed close to her sister’s skirt coats. Birgitta could not see Hadda but she was not concerned.
Hadda wondered at the circle forming around Birgitta and her little sister, but tried to keep her focus, however frenzied, on her half of the town. She nearly caught her hair on fire as she knocked old man Rolf to the ground, simultaneously dropping her remaining matches from the box and into the snow.
The old man was shaken but seemed fine, so Hadda let someone else pick him up, and scurried through the crowd back to the platform for Birgitta’s matches. How was it that Birgitta did not need them?
From the height of the platform, Hadda could see Birgitta working methodically through her crowd, lighting the candles from her own. She had less than a few dozen people who still needed their candles lit. There was no way that Birgitta’s matches would help Hadda now. How silly she had been, freezing her fingers to the bone, trying to light matches one by one.
Hadda took one match from the box and proceeded to light her own candle as Birgitta finished and her Grandmother Olga and Grandfather Berge lit the bonfire together. The townspeople merged from two groups into one and those still in need of flame quickly found someone who would light their candle from their own. Hadda understood where she had gone wrong, and while feeling a bit dejected, went to congratulate her friend. She quickly forgot the competition in the joy of the celebration.
Birgitta would be crowned the Hjarta Maiden of the Century. It is because of the spirit exemplified by Birgitta that Hjarta would survive another hundred years.
Are you burning matches or are you sharing your bright flame?
I hope you enjoyed this Winter Solstice story. Did you notice that in addition to the moral of lighting your own candle first, (we can't give that which we don't have), there is also a tortoise and hare aspect to it?