I knew that something was afoot when so many Swedes asked me when I moved to Uppsala. A question like this is straightforward and does not invoke strange motives. To their delight, my answer coincided with the beginning of summer and the forthcoming days of abundant daylight. However, what ultimately followed my response was their warning about the dreaded Swedish winter.
I never heeded their warnings. Winters can be dark and cold, but surely it wouldn’t substantially affect me? I am living in one of my favorite countries in the world with the rest of Europe in my backyard. Having after works with new colleagues, cycling everyday through the plentiful parks in the city, playing beach volleyball until blue hour (around 11pm in these latitudes), surely all these activities would send dopamine coursing throughout my body? How could life here become lackluster? In retrospect, the word of a local should always be highly regarded and I was in for a rude awakening.
The barrage of rain and gloomy weather of the winter would satisfy any pluviophile. The consistent gray robs your body of critical Vitamin D which you must assuage by taking supplements and utilizing sun lamps. Doing errands and going to/from work are usually done under cloudy, jet black night skies. Three months in and I felt optimistic. But thereafter, my energy and mood changed exponentially worse. Suddenly at that point, I realized the substantial impact the weather and light (or lack thereof) affected my body chemistry, energy, and overall mood.
Winter isn’t completely written off, however. The pure white snow blanketing a city and nearby forests adds an element of charm to the landscape and literally makes the nights brighter. The extra cold nights not only keep the snow frozen on the ground, but sequesters any remaining humidity in the air, making it actually feel warmer. In northern Sweden, driving on new layers of snow is a banal activity from November to March.
Some winter days may tease with intermittent sunlight and it is in that respect, you inadvertently learn of another Swedish pastime. If the sun is shining, the outdoor cafes are populated, regardless of how cold it is. This behavior is the exemplification of the common adage among Swedes: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’. Spending time outside in these instances are sacrosanct to Swedes and even now, myself.
After all this, I posit that the formula for successfully navigating the harsh winters is by staying active, cultivating and enriching your personal relationships, and having hope in knowing that it will all pass. If anything, the winter helps you appreciate the great weather and ever-increasing amount of daylight when spring rolls in. Even in the rain, the spring petrichor is pleasant as the city starts coming to life again; rejuvenated with the injection of golden hour hues in tandem with the emergence of green forest monoliths.
Soon, focus shifts to summertime plans for enjoying the warmer weather among friends. Staying inside in summer is a sin and outdoor fikas (another Swedish institution) become a weekly ritual. The conversation then turns to Midsummer plans, arguably one of the most favorite days of the year for this country. Between the months of July and August, many people here take their 6 weeklong vacation for the year. I found this to be perplexing. Why would you want to leave Sweden at its most enjoyable time of the year? Why not save your holidays at more colorful destinations when it’s winter here? I suppose some things aren’t meant to be understood.
The vast amounts of daylight inevitably yield longer and usually striking sunsets. A nearby park or viewing platform is where you can find me with partly cloudy summer skies, soaking in the vivid display of airy pink and purple hues. It’s a remarkably welcome sight, especially when juxtaposed with the darkness of a few months prior.
What I found comical in retrospect with all the sunlight was how difficult it was to sleep, waking up in the middle of the ‘night’, but feeling like it was midday. I had lost count of the times I panicked before peering at my phone telling me it’s half past 3, only to sometimes murmur my dissatisfaction and fall back asleep.
The last flash of color comes from the fall foliage and serves as a reminder of what is about to come. Nature teases the warmest of colors (orange, yellow, red) while gently lowering the mercury to bring in the crisp and chilly fall air. The backdrop of historically significant buildings flanked by incarnadined maple trees is a sight for sore eyes. Then, like clockwork, there is an extended period of rain, stripping the trees of their visual delights as you prepare yourself for another winter season.
What I have come to appreciate from this country is that there seems to exist a large respect for nature. In this scope of this article, I have framed it as more than a respect, but as a reliance. For the mental health of Swedes, a connection with the natural world is essential. It is in their DNA and instilled in them from birth. All the colors of this country must be valued in their own individual ways. As far as the winter time, you know it is all just temporary and everyone else is suffering the same as you. Now, when people ask me when I moved here, I simply answer with “this will be my 2nd winter”.
About the author: Chris Kane is from Washington DC but currently calls Sweden his home. Since finishing his degrees in chemistry, he is often found in his natural laboratory habitat. From time to time, he tries to step away, switching fluorescent lights with golden hour in any country that will have him. A self-taught photographer and drone flyer, he enjoys sharing his travel experiences on his blog, hoping to help any others who are looking to find meaningful travel experiences. Follow his adventures on Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.
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