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Ice candles: A Finnish tradition

December 3 , 2007

Cokato Finnish-Am. Society to have cemetery lighting ceremony Saturday

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

As a way to remember and honor the dead during Christmas as well as light up the darkest days of winter, there is a Finnish tradition of placing candles in the cemetery on Christmas Eve.

The Cokato Finnish-American Society has adopted this tradition from the old country and will be illuminating the Cokato Finnish Cemetery during its Pikkujoulu celebration Saturday, Dec. 8.

“It’s a nice way to remember your loved ones during Christmas,” said Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society member Susie Keskey.

Although Finnish cemetery candles will be sold at the event, some people get a little more creative and make their own candles.

Keskey, for example, makes ice candles, which are illuminating frozen cylinders.

Ice candles are made by partially freezing water in a bucket or pail until the outside is fully frozen. Pails should be no smaller than an ice cream pale, Keskey advised.

Depending on the temperature, the buckets of water are placed outside overnight.

One particular candle Keskey recently made, was left outside for 12 hours at five degrees, which worked well for her. The outside temperature should be well below freezing, she said.

After the water is frozen on the perimeter, she makes a hole on the top and drains out leftover water. She then runs the container under hot water and removes the hollow cylinder.

Any size candle can be placed inside the ice cylinder, including tea lights, votives, or pillars.

Once lit, “It just glows,” Keskey said.

If it’s too warm for ice candles, Keskey also makes frosted glass candles out of 1-gallon jars.

To get the frosted look, “which really makes them glow,” Keskey uses Elmer’s glue mixed with water to the consistency of milk. Then, she applies it over the outside of the jar.

“This gives it the ice candle effect,” she said.

Keskey is hoping to have enough luminaries to line each side of the cemetery driveway Saturday night.

Anyone is welcome to come and put their own candles in the cemetery. Keskey is encouraging the public to attend and see the glowing scene.

Participants will begin placing candles in the cemetery at 3:30 p.m., and visitors are welcome anytime after dark to view them.

One very cold year, Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society member Lester Hill, made 40 ice candles for this celebration. Keskey remembers an Embarrass woman making 400 ice candles one year for the lighting of its cemetery.

Following the lighting of the candles, friends and family will gather at the Cokato Township Hall for the Pikkujoulu celebration and potluck at 4 p.m.

For further questions about making ice candles, contact Susie Keskey at (320) 286-5001.

Pikkujoulu means ‘little Christmas’

Pikkujoulu means “little Christmas” and is celebrated in Finland around Christmas time, usually the second weekend in December, according to Heidi Barberg.

This year, the Cokato-Finnish American Society will have its Pikkujoulu celebration Saturday, Dec. 7.

It is a time to celebrate the Christmas season and gather with friends and family for fellowship and enjoy Finnish delicacies. It may also include a church service, making Christmas decorations, and singing Christmas carols.

Finnish businesses will celebrate Pikkujoulu with company parties, as well.

Pikkujoulu is celebrated around the time of the Finnish independence day which is the second weekend in December, according to Barberg.

This year happens to be the 90th anniversary of the Finnish independence from Russia and Sweden which took place in 1917, she said.