Ask a handful of people to share what they know about life in Sweden and I’m sure long, dark Winters would be a common answer. We are now easing out of Winter and I can confirm this reputation is accurate, even in Stockholm, which is spared from the polar nights of Northern Sweden.
The evenings were light until almost midnight during Midsummer. Fast forward to a crayfish party in mid August we were sat outside in the dark at 9:30pm. Having now experienced all four seasons back to back, I think Midsummer will be an even bigger celebration for us this year.
Daylight hours during peak Winter are more like semi darkness than actual light. The sun lays on the horizon and hides behind cloud, which means the sky doesn’t reach full daylight and no Winter sun shines on your face. Light that does make it through is an errie blue grey.
The darkest days
Fun fact: Stockholm didn’t see any sun for almost a month from the 28th November 2020.
The darkest days only have around five light hours, including the transition between day and night. The photo below was taken at 1:30pm — 7pm feels like an acceptable bed time when this is the lightest point in the day.
On the other side of the coin, everything around you is lit up. Stockholm is a really beautiful place to be in Winter. Christmas trees in squares, parks and gardens. Apartment windows glowing orange and decorated with paper julstjärna. Lights strung around shop displays, lanterns in doorways and candles burning in cafes. So while there is a lot of darkness, there is also plenty of light. Just not sunlight.
All this being said, there were only a few days where I felt desperate for light. And not even sun, just a brighter sky! Looking back, it’s hard to believe it was so dark now the brighter days of Spring are here.
Getting through Winter
I’ve put together a list of things that helped us through Winter. They seem ridiculously simple but they are all things I noted down at the time. And I’ve documented them partly to remind myself again next year.
Hiberation is the key to a happier Winter. Our Swedish friends told us to embrace the desire to hibernate rather than fight it, and this was great advice. I tried to keep a couple of things in mind:
- The darkness is only temporary.
- Winter gives us permission to rest, conserve energy, take care of ourselves and wear our comfiest clothes.
- Embrace what you can do in Winter that isn’t possible in Summer. Like drinking hot chocolate!
Lethargy crept up on me slowly but became quite strong in November; I felt like I could have slept all day. Getting up without light was harder than dark evenings for me but perhaps having more evening rituals made a difference there.
Venturing outside in the cold and dark may not feel like a motivating prospect when you just want to be a sloth, but it’s easy to forget that exercise boosts energy levels. I can’t deny that buying buns was the main motivator for leaving the house on quite a few occasions but hey, it got us out and about. Happy tummies are just as important as happy minds.
Snow makes a better Winter in my opinion because it adds some magic and a suprising amount of light. Plus I’m always happy to go for a walk in the snow! It arrived in December and continued on and off until the end of February — there have been light flurries through to April but the snow melted quickly again. I kept thinking Winter was still here but actually, this is just what Spring looks like in the North!
I read that candles are an informal celebration of light to Nordic countries, which is beautiful way to think about it. They add cosiness but most importantly, they create the illusion of a brighter environment.
Lighting candles at the same time each day helped break up long periods of darkness — it was the first thing I did after finishing work and this became part of my daily routine. We also lit candles on lazy weekend days and have seen several households burning them at breakfast.
Take good care of your skin.
Swedish Winter brings cold and dry air — the UK is much more humid in comparison. That combined with warm indoor environments, freezing outdoor tempatures and icy wind meant it wasn’t long before my skin started looking dry and reptilian. There were also a number of occasions where the air was so dry that my naturally curly hair went straight!
Dry, blotchy skin isn’t the end of the world but healthy skin is more comfortable. And it’s an easy win when you are trying to feel positive about Winter. My skincare routine has always been minimal but I needed to take better care of my skin during Winter here. Weleda Skin Food and Lumene Arctic Hydra Care have been my saviours. Lumeme make an excellent perfume free serum for sensitive skin and Skin Food has been great for days where my face feels like it’s shrivelling up.
We took vitamin D supplements from October through to March. Salmon and eggs are naturally righ in vitamin D so we also increased our intake of those. I still felt lethargic but supplements definitely took the edge off — although I didn’t appreciate this until I forgot to take them for a couple of weeks and wondered why I started feeling so damn tired.
Winter is over… no it’s not… oh maybe it is… nope
Vårvinter is a trickster microseason between Spring and Winter. You open the curtains one day to find sunshine, warm temperatures and blue skies. A few hours later, more snow or rain arrives and the temperatures drop again. This game continues for several weeks and becomes especially noticeable in April when the warmer days arrive. Swedes use “April bakslag” (April backlash) to describe this weather yo-yo.
This is the hardest part of Winter for me because nature gives you a taste of Spring, takes it away and makes you wait several more weeks. I’d rather we had full-time snow for longer or it just stayed sunny!
More of a safety measure than something to lift your spirits. You know when darkness is on the way because racks of reflectors start appearing in supermarkets. Most people attach them to their coats, bags and dogs — I’ve laughed on a few occasions because some dogs are more visible than their owners! So be safe and buy a reflector.
Until next year
Are Nordic Winters really as dark as their reputation? Absolutely. Are they cold? Yes. Are they beautiful? Indeed. Is there anywhere else I’d rather be during Winter? Nope!
Ah I really enjoyed reading this Gemma, I had no idea just how little light there is there in Winter!
I can totally imagine you two hibernating up with some quality snacks by candle light. Miss you both x
Glad you enjoyed the read! Hibernating with quality snacks was basically our existence 😂 Miss you more. Xx
this is a lovely piece.
Thanks Nina 🙂
Hi ! I am an American with Swedish heritage. I live in California, and yet every January I feel like hibernating. I feel tired and move slowly after celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas and we may not get as many sunny days as other months. I’ve wondered if my tendency to hibernate comes from my Swedish heritage ? Your article was very interesting, thank you !
Blessings, Katy Rosander Castanos