Winter is dark in Tromsø. I wrote on back on November 21st that we said goodbye to the sun that day (and then I cheated, because I wasn’t in Tromsø for the darkest four weeks of the year). Today, January 21st, is soldagen (“the sun day”), the day we welcome the sun back. All week the weather forecast for today has been cloudy, but we got lucky and the clouds stayed at bay just long enough for the sun to make its first brief appearance of the year.
Unfortunately, I was in a classroom during the few minutes it came out (the photo above was taken on Monday). I watched it happen on screen via NRK’s live feed (for the very curious, you can watch the playback here – the video is just under ten minutes). I was able to participate in other soldagen traditions, though, like eating solboller, which are sweet buns or donuts eaten on soldagen. In Tromsø the preferred type seems to be a frosted jelly-filled donut! What’s called a “solbolle” can vary from region to region. I must say, I’m in favor of holidays where it’s traditional to sit around with something warm to drink, eating donuts.
Even though I didn’t see the sun today, I’ll see it again soon enough. In the meantime, I’ve been taking lots of walks during the daylight hours. For me, the two most important ways to cope with the long hours of darkness are spending time outside during the daylight, and getting plenty of exercise. Long walks around the island during the daylight does a wonderful job of feeding two birds with one seed.
People’s reactions when they first learn how little daylight we get at this time of year often aren’t that far from “horror-struck.” But somehow, I find it easier to really commit to darker days than to spend a winter with dark setting in at 4:00 pm all the time. I know it’s going to be dark for the vast majority of the hours in a day, so the daylight hours become precious (it’s part of why it’s so important to spend as much of the daylight outside as possible).
The other thing, though, is that the light during the daylight is magical. It has an incredible quality. There is a time of day referred to by photographers as “golden hour” (or sometimes “magic hour”) and while without the sun I’m not sure it’s a true golden hour, it’s no secret the light at the edges of day has a special quality. The light we get here in winter? It’s like 4-5 hours of magic hour. On a cloudy day (and it seems my long walks have mostly been on cloudy days) there’s a softness cloaking everything, while on clear days, the sky turns into a giant ombre cotton candy daydream. Pair that with the snowy mountains all around, and I don’t feel sad about the darkness at all; on the contrary, I feel so lucky that this is the place I get to live and walk and breathe. And the snow makes it sound different too; the physical properties of snow make it a sound-absorber, which is why the world feels quiet when you’re out walking in a fresh snow.
Thinking back to Tromsø when we arrived in the summer, it feels like a different planet. And while I am certainly looking forward to the days growing longer, and eventually, warmer (because the Norwegian summer is glorious), for now I am incredibly grateful for my long daylight walks through this magic winter wonderland.