Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Light and the Dark in Sweden

You hear a lot about lightness and darkness in Sweden.

The Dark Side
Swedes grumble about the 18 hours or so of darkness in the heart of winter. I moved to Sweden last November, arriving at the month many Swedes hate the most because Autumn has definitely gone and the December holidays with all their candles and celebrations have not yet arrived.

But you know what? I actually liked the darkness last winter. It seems almost heretical to say it. I marveled that I couldn't even see people's faces when I hurried past on the way to the commuter train in Stockholm. I liked the way you could slip through the shadows. I liked the dark even before I moved to Sweden so I figured that I was strange and also that I was new to the Swedish darkness. I figured the novelty would wear off and I would feel depressed like many Swedes come wintertime.

Only time will tell.

“Early morning Lucia procession in Gustav Vasa church in Stockholm. Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters.” Photo by: Ola Ericson/

The Light Side
Now, as we just passed Midsummer, the days are as long as they can be. The sun sets around 10:30pm (but it's still light for quite awhile) and rises at 3:30AM. And you know what? I think it's kind of a pain! It's hard to get a room to be reasonably dark (this said by a person without an unlimited budget nor or even much control over the window coverings in my shared apartment). It kind of wears on a person. You feel like you should be doing something because it's light out.

I thought this, too, was heretical thinking in Sweden. I thought you were supposed to LOVE the 18 or 19 ours of light because you were sort of "banking" it for the dark months. But yesterday, two card-carrying swedes where I work said they felt the same way. They both thought that August was a good time to take some vacation because it is still light but the sun goes down at 9pm or so and rises later. This, they thought, was a happy medium between the two extremes of having nearly no light at all or too much light.

Maybe I'm not such a heretic, after all.

“Midsummer is one of Sweden’s most beloved holidays and ever since pagan times Swedes have celebrated the longest day of the year, around the time of the summer solstice.” Photo by Lena Granefelt/
A final note about the dark and the light. I was surprised at how quickly things change in Sweden. What I mean is that the transition between the short days to the short nights seems very fast to me--as though it took a week or so. Boom! Suddenly it was light nearly the whole night.

I expect the switch back might be as quick in the Fall.

...Wonder if I'll complain about it. :)


  1. I don't like the darkness either but I'm used to it so I try and not complain. ;-) The light I love! I live up north (Umeå) and for at least two months every summer it NEVER gets dark. It's hard to wind down and and go to bed because, as you say, it feels like I should be doing something. But I do love it and I wish it was like this for at least four months.


    1. I visited Umeå once, a long time ago, and really enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting. :)

  2. Yes I am sure it is an adjustment but still how exciting all the new places you can explore.

  3. I my opinion, in Sweden there's too much darkness in winter and too little of it in summer. I prefer spring and autumn in that regard, they're a bit more reasonable. Bright days but with proper evenings and nights.

    I posted a request for your contact info on your other blog about work, but I see it's not updated as often as this. If you have time to answer a few of my questions, you could email me at emilultra @ (spaces inserted here). If not, I'll stop asking. :)

    1. Yes, interesting for me to find out there are genuine Swedes who like more of a balance...I thought everyone here loved all the light. I'll respond to your request offline. Thanks for posting.

  4. Eyemasks are my salvation. Then you find that you sleep through to the alarm. I feel so much better, I wish I had tried them out before.

    1. Interesting! I haven't tried one of those because I thought it would feel strange. But it makes sense to just darken your own "eyes" rather than the whole room. Still, I love my new IKEA curtains that are blocking the light quite nicely. The only problem is that they also block the fresh air coming in the window...

    2. Quite - I have blackout blinds but the air was blowing them inwards and the light appeared at the edges. I used to take herbal sleeping pills to combat the problem, but an eye mask has got rid of the need to take them, plus I don't have the horrible groggy feeling in the mornings. The first night I thought I would struggle, but get hold of a soft black silk one with adjustable strap and it is fine.