Ice Candles across the Embarrass Cemetery. Photo Credit: Sheila Heikkila Vandervort

May the light of the Winter Solstice always shine on you.“

Light glows from the Ice Candles in Embarrass. Photo Credit: Sheila Heikkila Vandervort

On one of the shortest days of the year, there are 660 chunks of ice next to headstones across the entire Embarrass Cemetery.  These ice chunks are actually containers to hold candles.  It is part of a Finnish Christmas tradition to bring light into the darkness.  According to Shireen Lee, of Embarrass, she says because of the rich Finnish heritage in Embarrass, the community choses to do this each year. Back in Finland, “Part of the Christmas Eve Day festivities included a Christmas Eve sauna and a visit to the graves of loved ones at sunset. In the 1920’s, people began to light candles to leave on the graves,” says Lee.  After World War II it became a way to honor fallen soldiers.

When all the candles are lit, it is quite a sight to see.  Many people come to see this unique lighting display. In fact, this year the Embarrass Fire Department had to do traffic control to help with the event’s popularity.  Lee adds, “It truly is an event supported and participated by the entire community, as well as past residents coming from miles away to see.”

Roger Davies, Maintenance Lead, Town of Embarrass, lights candles across the cemetery.

With the mild temperatures this year, making the ice candle containers was difficult.  Roger Davies, Maintenance Lead for Town of Embarrass says, “The weather didn’t cooperate with us this year but we lucked out and actually, the few days we could make them we made as many candles as we could.  We stored them, we stacked them and put plastic between them so that if they did melt they didn’t freeze together afterwards.”

The Embarrass crew uses two gallon paint pails. “We do about 120 at a time.  It takes an hour just to fill all the buckets,” describes Davies. He continues, “Then, depending upon the temperature, some batches took two days to set up. Others, with a couple cold nights, those batches only took a night. Then we had one batch that sat out there for a week, it would thaw out and freeze, thaw and freeze.  You can’t agree with Mother Nature.”

Once the ice has set up there is a technique to remove them from the pails.“You take a big pot of hot water, you dunk the bucket in there, flip them over.”  That is when they are ready to set out and put a candle in and light them.

Did you miss seeing the candles in Embarrass? Hoyt Lakes puts their candles out on Christmas Eve.  So, you still have time to hop in the car to see this beautiful display of light.  They have also had a rough time making the frozen Ice Candle containers in Hoyt Lakes.

Photo of the Ice Candle in the Hoyt Lakes Memorial Cemetery.
Photo Credit: Terry Olmstead

However, Terry Olmstead says “things are coming into place.” She has been doing this for about ten years in Hoyt Lakes. “Both my parents had passed (and Larry’s) and we wanted to do something to let them know we were thinking of them. Especially, this time of year.”  At first, Larry, (Olmstead’s husband) was the only one making candles, but the community began to support this annual event. Olmstead explains, “He started making over a hundred and people started wanting to buy them. This was never what this was about. But, they wouldn’t take no for an answer so we were like, “if they want to donate” we will give it back to a worthy cause. We have donated to the library, Project Elf, the Food Shelf, and the Hibbing Animal Shelter.”

To go see the Ice Candles in Hoyt Lakes, go after dusk on Christmas Eve to the Hoyt Lakes Memorial Cemetery at 546 Hampshire Drive in Hoyt Lakes.

Joy McJingles writes a blog about Iron Range Tourism and Holidays on the Range.  Blogs are posted on Thursdays and Sundays.