Dark Nights full of bright lights
There's certainly drank in Scandinavia in the winter, the most northerly areas are in darkness for several months. But what do we actually mean by Polar Nights? According to the dictionary, it is the time of year when the sun stays below the horizon at midday.
“This is due to the Earth's vertical axis being tilted a certain degree towards the ecliptic of the sun it orbits around. This means that areas close to the North Pole are in darkness in winter, while areas close to the South Pole have midnight sun,” says meteorologist Marianne Skolem Andersen.
How dark it gets in Scandinavia depends on where you are. On Svalbard, the Polar Nights begin on 26 January and the sun doesn't return until 16 February. Then it’s dark round the clock unless the Northern Lights appear.In Tromsø, it's dark from 27 November to 15 January.
“If you fly to Tromsø or Alta in December, you will wander around in semi darkness at 10am. Many people are afraid of winter, but there's nothing to fear. Quite the opposite, there is plenty to experience during the Polar Nights, that you cannot experience at other times,” says travel journalist Christine Baglo.
“You can, for example, spend the night in the ice hotel in Kirkenes, take a snow scooter trip to Alta or head to Lofoten and join a traditional fishing trip. You can also go mountain climbing here,” Baglo says to Scandinavian Traveler.
Photographers can also find beautiful light during the Polar Nights. Trym Ivar Bergsmo, who has exhibited his images in Europe and published photo books, says there is a lot of light in the darkness, and it’s different to anything else you have seen before.
“When the sun goes down and rests for a while, the light is reflected in the clouds. Imagine a spotlight shining light behind a house. You can see the reflection of the light. That’s what happens in winter, too. Today the pink and turquoise light was almost unreal,” Bergsmo says to Scandinavian Traveler.
Things to do and see during the Polar Nights in Scandinavia:
Lighted ski trails
As soon as the first snow arrives, the lights are lit in the so-called lighted snow trails. Norwegians then strap on their skis and set off on an invigorating ski tour in wonderful, prepared trails in towns and villages from north to south of the country. The latest conditions on the trails are a popular topic around every dining table. The metro trains and streetcars in Oslo are packed with people with ski boots and skis slung over their shoulders.
Learn to photograph light – and the lack of it
Would you have thought you could travel to the northernmost areas of Scandinavia to photograph light – during the darkest time of the year? Photographer Trym Ivar Bergsmo, famous for his sensitive and atmospheric images of nature and people in northern areas, runs two photography courses in Lofoten.One course in January is aimed at keen photographers and is about spending time in Lofoten and experiencing the light as it returns. The other is for more advanced photographers and scheduled later in the winter. The days are a bit longer by then and more varied and there are some wonderful transitions in the weather and light.The courses are based in the rugged mountains of Reine in Lofoten. You go out taking photographs in the daytime and then work with the files in the afternoons.
Dates: 10 – 13 January, 22 – 27 January 2019. Cost: Nkr4,900 for the three-day course.
Watching the green light dancing across the pitch-black sky is a special sight. The phenomenon arises when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere. According to the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia (Snl.no) they arise above the upper polar atmosphere between 80km and 500km above the surface of the Earth, when electrons and protons collide with atmospheric gases. The gases are then charged with energy that is transmitted in the form of light. Many tour operators have specialized in giving visitors here the opportunity to experience the Northern Lights. You are also now guaranteed to see the Northern Lights onboard Hurtigruten cruise ships along the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Kirkenes.“No trip north of the Arctic Circle is complete without experiencing the Northern Lights. North Norway is one of the best places in the world to experience the Northern Lights. Hurtigruten is so confident that passengers will experience this magical phenomenon that the cruise company offers a “Northern Lights Guarantee” on a 12-day round trip in the Northern Lights season. Hurtigruten ships cruise slowly along the coast with little light pollution which makes them a perfect place to look out for Aurora Borealis. Hurtigruten ships stop at 22 harbors north of the Arctic Circle and spend plenty of time in the area where there is the best chance of experiencing the phenomenon. Passengers are notified when the crew spots Northern Lights activity. Then, you're welcome on deck to enjoy the magical color show, often without any light pollution from the land. Hurtigruten ships sail within the Northern Lights oval, which provides an excellent chance of capturing the spectacular light show,” says Svein Harald Lian, a communications advisor with Hurtigruten.
Top quality fish
Norway is famous for its fantastic cod. But did you know when it tastes its very best? In mid-winter, obviously.“Many people have opinions on what time of year cod is at its best, but December is actually a very good month to eat fresh fish,” says Associate Professor Marit Bjørnevik of the University of Nordland.Cod do not grow as fast in winter as they do in summer, and this affects the quality of the fish. A well-fed summer cod can seem dry and with the flesh bordering on tough, which is partly due to lower pH levels in the muscles after the fish are slaughtered. Through the fall, when the fish have less available food, the muscle pH after death will be higher than in the summer and give the muscles greater water binding properties resulting in a juicier texture. Perhaps a good explanation why cod is a much-loved Christmas food in many parts of Norway?
Arrival of the killer whales
The fjords of Troms and Vesterålen are a midwinter playground for humpback whales and killer whales. From Senja, you can go on a whale safari with a big chance of spotting them. The whales are attracted here by herring that gather in shoals in the area before heading south to spawn. When the herring head south, the whales follow. The herring offer humpback whales the chance of provisions ahead of their journey to the Caribbean. Killer whales also love herring and use their tail fins as a weapon to stun the fish before mealtime. See Nordnorge.com for more information. The whale safari leaves from the harbor in Senja but call in advance to check for the latest information.
Light governs our melatonin hormone levels that are important in regulating our biological clock, namely that we should wake up in the morning and sleep at night. When there’s not much light, there's a certain risk that you can struggle to get up. On the other hand: There's a good chance you’ll sleep well, which is good for your health in general.
When it’s darkest in Scandinavian towns in December, the people find every possible excuse for a party. Tables are decorated with delicious food and drink everywhere, and the streets are full of people coming and going from festive occasions. The bars and restaurants entice people with the aroma of succulent roast ribs, hot gravy and toffee pudding. Who said it was sad to live in the dark?
The sun returns and the days get longer
The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. This is because the winter solstice is the day when the sun is lowest in the sky. The winter solstice falls on the 21st or 22nd December in the Northern hemisphere. From the next day on, the days gradually get lighter and longer until 21st or 22nd June. Isn't that great!
Published: December 12, 2018
Last edited: December 21, 2018