Merry Christmas everyone! Or happy holidays to those of you that don’t celebrate this occasion. Unlike last year when I skipped Christmas, this year I went all out – all the way out to Finland, that is. And Finland is where I’ll be for another four days, until it’s time to celebrate New Years in Tel Aviv. Can’t wait!
The reason why I’m super excited for Israel is very simple – I miss the sun! I’ve barely seen the yellow friend since arriving in the Arctic North about two weeks ago. Somehow in my enthusiasm to spend the holidays with the family I almost forgot that my homeland sucks in December. Big time. There’s no light! Here’s a photo taken around 4 p.m. Could it get any darker?
I recently found a blog post that describes the Finnish winter down to a T: “November in Finland is murder. It’s just as beautiful as a summer’s day in Mordor, or a day spent in a windowless house without any lights. You wake up, it’s dark. You come home from work, it’s dark. It’s not the nice and soft kind of darkness. It’s wet and rainy and awful. Pitch black.” Yes, exactly!
You see, a third of Finland is located above the Arctic Circle. That means that a third of the country experiences what is called the Polar Night – a period of about 50 days when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. As you can see in this chart taken from Gaisma.com, the number of daily sunlight hours in the city of Utsjoki currently stands exactly at 0:00. ZERO. A month from now the day lasts a whopping 3.5 hours. Yee-haw.
(Then again, in six months the day is exactly 24 hours longer! That’s because the Midnight Sun lights up Northern summer nights. Here’s a cool video of the phenomenon. Now THAT is a great time to visit Finland!)
I hail from Southern Finland, a good 700 km away from the start of the Arctic Circle (that’s 400+ miles for you Yankees). So things aren’t quite as dire down here in terms of sunlight hours as they are up in Lapland, where this chart is from. But don’t be fooled: they are still pretty bad. Right now the length of the day stands at about five hours in Helsinki and Turku, the two Southern cities I always zig-zag in between. The worst part is that we usually get five hours of cloudy weather, not five hours sunny hours. And then it’s back to darkness again until the next cloudy day. And this goes on for months. Right now it’s been a week since the sun last made an appearance. Our short five-hour days look like this:
Isn’t it cheerful here, especially since we have no snow to brighten up the scenery? A true Christmas in the dark. Makes me think longingly of the Christmas I spent in the Australian wine country, in the middle of the hottest summer. Ahhh, that was the life!
While nobody likes the lack of sun, most folks in Finland seem to be able to deal with the winter blues somehow (especially since it means we have awesome summers in return). People keep themselves busy with hobbies or look forward to their two weeks of winter holidays in Thailand or the Canary Islands. They go for brisk walks despite needing a flashlight. That’s great for them, but I just want to get out of here! I feel like I’m only a few steps away from being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – I definitely feel anxious, hungry and sleepy (and the jet lag that keeps on lagging on is not helping). Maybe I have a harder time adjusting to the darkness since I haven’t lived through a full Nordic winter in 13 years. Two weeks is already too much for me! I am a child of the the summer, a major-league beach addict. I feel totally out of my element when I don’t see the yellow blob in the sky for days on end.
We did have one relatively bright and sunny day about 10 days ago. That made all the difference in the world. I went for a walk up a hill in Helsinki with my sleep-loving friend Mira, with whom I traveled around Central America last winter. Without that day I probably would have gotten the first flight out of here even before Christmas had started. 😛
As lovely as it has been to spend quality time with family and friends, I’m happy I only have one more weekend of this doom and gloom and then I’m off to sunnier pastures. If it’s up to me, I’ll continue my life as a climate refugee and avoid the Finnish winter for many years to come!
Have you been to Finland or Scandinavia during the winter? How did you cope with the darkness? What are your tips for surviving the winter blues?
(PS. If flying off to the tropics isn’t an option for you, there are other ways you can try to alleviate SAD.)
Thanks for linking to my blog post! I can send greetings from Southern Finland: this year December is no different from November…it’s dark ALL the time. Still no snow. I’m in dire need of daylight!
I know!! I am in Turku right now and it feels just like November! Luckily I only have a few more days left in Finland. I’ll try to send some sunlight this way once I find it myself! 🙂
Maybe it is easier to deal with the lack of daylight when you experience the gradual decrease of daylight from summer through the autumn until December. Also a trip to some sunnier region in the middle of the winter helps, I guess this is the reason why Finns flock the Canary Islands, Spain, Thailand, Turkey etc during winter :). Also they say you need to get out of the house even though the weather is gloomy and dark, the fresh air cheers you up at least a bit compared to staying indoors. We have to try to embrace the four seasons we have to the full and just accept that the darkest times of the winter are for relaxing and hibernating (also for some Xmas parties and New Year’s parties though!) ;).. But I guess most Finns are hoping for some snow as it will definitely light up the grey days!
True, seeing the gradual change probably helps one adjust to the darkness. Parachuting into winter-Finland from a sunnier place is always a shock to the system… to me anyway. I remember when I lived in Florida and then didn’t see the sun for a week when I got to Finland for Christmas. I felt terrible because of the sudden change! Good luck for the rest of the winter there. Sending you some sun from New York! 🙂
I was born in November. 5 hours day. I like it. More or less we have the same kind of weather in St. Petersburg. Dark in the morning, dark after you finish your work. No snow – worst. Better with. Rainy. Yes. Cloudy. Yes. 40 days without sun. Easily. Then one day of sun (which gives no warm anyway) and then 40 days of different shades of gray more. So, yeap, I love Skandinavia! I’ve been in Finland: spring, summer and autumn and I love it, but never in winter. Just because it’s the same weather.
Yes, the winter weather in Russia and Finland is pretty similar. But magically when I took the Trans-Siberian train, it was super sunny throughout the whole two weeks we were in Russia! And that was in September. Meanwhile Finland was rainy and gloomy… But yes, winter is much better when you have snow to brighten up the dark days!
[…] taken nine flights and set foot on eight countries on three continents. I’ve gone from dark wintery Finland to spring-like Israel, made pit stops in Istanbul and Berlin, and taken a painful 18-hour train […]