WELLBEING: Shades of winter Finland from twilight to dark
A native of Southern Finland who now lives in Lapland, and a Sámi who has moved to Helsinki explain what the different sort of winter darkness feels like
By Jenni Leukumavaara
Tuuni Länsman, musician and a child-minder
Lives in Helsinki. Originally from the village of Angeli in the Northern Lapland municipality of Inari, well above the Arctic Circle.
”I moved to Helsinki already at the age of 17, twenty years ago, but I still visit up north as often as I can. Also my son, Joika, 6, would always like to travel up north.
The first winters in Helsinki were snowy, so the difference relative to the north was not that huge. Also, life in those days was so hectic that I did not really have time to stop and think of the seasons.
In my view, the winter darkness issues are more common here in the south. For me the darkness in the south of the country represents the real kaamos, or polar night. Let's put it another way; at least in the north it is more beautiful. Up north I am able to absorb peaceful energy from it.
My family are reindeer Sámi people, in other words, reindeer husbandry is their livelihood. This means that life happens according to the seasons and the animals. Reindeer cannot tell the time.
Working takes place when there is enough light, which is a couple of hours a day during the period of polar night. Now the decision-makers down south would like to introduce the eight-to-four model up there as well. Often I would have wanted to ask the ministers if they wouldn't mind going and spending a winter month in Lapland by way of a crash course in actually understanding things as they are.
In the winter, the Sámi people sleep a good deal. I, too, notice that during the dark period the body requires easing off and sleeping a lot. I go to bed already at around nine o’clock.
In Helsinki, as a herd animal, one feels a pull to join in the hustle and bustle. I cannot take a breather because my neighbour does not take one. Only after a lengthy illness have I given up the sense of permanent haste.
For years I suffered from thyroid problems, and an operation did not bring the hoped-for relief. I gained weight, I lost weight, and I was tremendously tired. Finally I discovered a great doctor and the recuperation process began.
Now that I feel better, I will stay clear from other people’s rat-race, especially in the winter when also for other reasons one could just sleep. I am met with disapproval on the streets of Helsinki where I walk slowly and stop to look at the window displays.
When one has less energy during the period of darkness, it is important to reserve some extra time on one’s calendar for just strolling along and hanging out.
It might be good if people could work shorter days in the winter, and for example spend some time outdoors to get to enjoy a little bit of daylight. I have a great job because it enables me to go out twice a day. This year the muddy season has been long in Helsinki, but even that cannot last forever.”
Tuuni’s suggestions for beating the winter depression:
Reserve time for strolling around and for your own thoughts.
Create atmosphere with lights and candles.
Remember to exercise. When you get out of the house you feel like a winner!
A positive attitude is the most important thing. Unnecessary complaining only adds to the gloom.
Anne Sipola, a project manager with an electrical contracting firm.
Moved from Helsinki to Ivalo (just south of Inari) four years ago. Originally from the south-coast town of Hamina.
”I moved from Helsinki to Ivalo because of a relationship in December 2007. The first year I couldn't get used to the polar night at all. The second and the third winters went in practising, but even now, my fourth winter here, I am noticing that I am still more sluggish than during other times of the year. And I have cravings for something sweet.
The Arctic winter night feels like the morning never comes. One has to verify from the clock that it really is morning. In Helsinki the daylight would still come at some point. But I certainly do not miss the slush down there.
I would probably sleep more, but because of my work and my three-year-old son, Sulo, this is not possible. In Sulo I notice the winter darkness in the fact that it is easier to get him to go to sleep. In the summer he would stay up goodness knows how late.
One of the plusses of kaamos is its opposite, the white nights of the summer. Before I moved here permanently, I had visited Lapland as a tourist. Back then I thought that the polar night is nothing but continuous darkness. That is not the case, however. During the day there is this bluish twilight. Somehow it is very peaceful. And in the daytime the moon can actually shine. That was something new.
In Helsinki it was easier to get myself to go for a jog in the evening when everywhere is lit up. We do not have neighbours and there are no street lights here. During the darkest period, it makes sense to walk around with a headlamp attached to your hat.
One learns to appreciate light. The first winter I drove to Saariselkä in January to reserve a place for our wedding. On the way I saw a couple of rays of sunlight glistening on the horizon. It felt incredible!”
Anne’s suggestions for beating the winter blues:
Switch on the Christmas lights already in November if it helps. In the north one does see more lights, candles, and outdoor fires.
Light therapy. I sometimes use the bright light lamp, but not regularly.
It pays to accept the fact that this is not the most energetic time of the year. It is perfectly OK to feel tired.
Despite the darkness, spend time outdoors whenever you can.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 12.12.2011
More on this subject:
Winter Blues: It’s all about hormones
Previously in HS International Edition:
Seasonal mood variations are related to light (28.9.2010)
”Winter depression is a disorder of the internal clock” (8.12.2009)
Bright-light headset fights seasonal affective disorder by illuminating the brain (9.11.2011)
December in the city: short days and dim (18.12.2007)
Psychiatrist tackles demons of Arctic winter darkness (3.1.2006)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (Wikipedia)
Polar night, kaamos (Wikipedia)
JENNI LEUKUMAAVAARA / Helsingin Sanomat