The clocks went back barely a month ago in Bergen, and yet the morning sun only showed its head at 9:17 AM. It rose pale and gibbous, stayed low in the sky, and crept down behind the mountains at 3:37 PM. On the shortest day of the year, we will have barely six hours of daylight.
This cold darkness goes hand in hand with two seemingly contradictory things: seasonal depression, and the most festive time of year. Norway, you see, is exceptionally good at Christmas. Twinkly lights are going up, the world’s biggest gingerbread town is open, and the landscape has turned into a real winter wonderland.
As an international student who’s never lived further north than Edinburgh, adjusting to the cold and dark has been something of a challenge. Admittedly, it’s not made any easier by the fact that the Norwegians don’t seem to be suffering at all. It doesn’t matter if it’s pitch black outside, or if there’s snow on the roads – nothing will stop the people of Bergen from their daily routines, and even less from living up to general stereotypes of living in ski boots. With barely an inch of snow on the ground last week, Norwegian students were calling for time off to go skiing in nearby Voss, the capital of snowsports in western Norway. For many, the appeal of nature far outweighs the importance of academics.
Perhaps this is something that we could learn from – knowing when to take time to make the most of our surroundings. When these surroundings are as harsh as they are, however, there are certain precautions that must be taken. I have thankfully picked up a few tips concerning the Nordic winter.
Norwegians are renowned for their semi-religious consumption of cod liver oil, which combats depression and boosts the immune system. While I prefer to take it in pill form to avoid the frankly horrific taste, it’s a valuable ally against the onslaught of the long night.
Despite their reputation for unapproachability, Norwegians are remarkably solidary at this time of year. All are acquainted with how difficult it can be to live in darkness, and as such, people are kinder to each other, and more open. This is also the time of year to embrace the notion of kos, a Norwegian word that roughly translates to ‘cosy’ – or the feeling of sharing the simple pleasures of life with the people we love. Indeed, kos is rife when constantly wrapped up, or snowed in, or drinking mulled wine.
The best and most vital weapon against the winter, however, is attitude. Norwegians believe that winter is something to be enjoyed, rather than endured. It is an opportunity for winter sports, for seeing the spectacular Northern Lights, and for the extraordinary amount of light-related festivals around the country. The first Saturday of December is the day of the Bergen Light Festival, where nearly 30,000 people come together to celebrate the start of the Advent season. There’s a celebration of Saint Lucia on the 13th of December, commonly called the Day of Light. Similarly, inhabitants of Tromsø, a city 200 miles above the Arctic Circle that sees 60 days of polar night, refer to this time as ‘the blue period’ rather than ‘the dark period’, purposely orienting themselves towards a more positive mindset.
In my preparations to come to Norway, I didn’t think too much about how I was going to weather the winter. The prospect of constant darkness and cold was daunting to me. It’s with great surprise and a good deal of relief that I can announce that I’m looking forward to the days closing in around us, if nothing else to tell people that I’m living the kos life.