What is the Polar Night and how do we survive the ‘Dark Season’ here in Tromsø?
By Benni and Mandy
Can you imagine daily life without natural light or even seeing the sun for months at a time? This is the reality for us living in the Arctic Circle. However it is not as dark and gloomy as you might think. Our staff Benni and Mandy, who recently travelled to Tromsø from sunny New Zealand, explain their first experience of ‘mørketid’ and what the polar night really feels like.
So what is the ‘Dark Season’?
Before we arrived in Tromsø it was hard for us to imagine how the sun could vanish so fast (losing 20 minutes of daylight per day) and how people could live their normal lives in permanent darkness. We read that this would be the season of ‘lights and colours’ but felt pretty unsure about how life in 24/7 darkness would feel. Soon, nature showed us exactly what it means to live through the ‘dark season’.
The polar night or ‘Dark Season’ is when the sun stays below the horizon for over 24 hours. Due to the rotation of the Earth and its tilted axis in relation to the Sun, both the North Pole and the South Pole experience extreme daylight hours and extreme darkness as part of their annual cycle. The duration and intensity of the polar night depends how far you are located into the Arctic Circle. The closer to the North Pole you are, the longer and darker it will be. Here in Tromsø we are 350km above the Arctic Circle at 69 degrees north, so experience the polar nights, but without the months of complete pitch black that occur further north.
Each day we experience several hours of this beautiful arctic blue light, also called the ‘blue hour’
, a tranquil and soft light that keeps your on the shutter of your camera. This period is a photographer’s delight and is stunningly beautiful when the days are clear and cold. These scenes are also what attract so many people from all over the world to travel to northern Norway during the ‘dark season’. The Northern Lights
can even begin dancing at 4 or 5pm when the conditions are right. Norwegians make the most of the polar night by decorating their homes with candles, fairy lights and stars. Creating a cosy feeling across the city. Children continue to play outdoors with head-torches and reflective vests and life continues as normal for locals. There is even a polar night half marathon
here in Tromsø!
What does our daily routine look like during the Polar Night?
You wake up in darkness. Headlamp on, hoody on, crawling out of bed, lighting candles, keeping the fire burning, having a strong coffee and breakfast – still dark. You suit up with jackets, boots and soon the crispy fresh morning air welcomes us into a black world. We feed the dogs in the kennel around 08:00 – still dark. After their breakfast and cleaning the dog garden is done, occasionally we all have a coffee break – still dark. But your eyes begin to notice a glimpse of a dark-blueish morning twilight.
Later, the stars near the eastern horizon vanish as the sky above the mountains starts to glow like the embers of our fire hours earlier. First some kind of deep violet, fading into a blue. Slowly turning into a red-pinkish, energetic colour and at its brightest, the sky glows pink like candy infusing the landscape with warmth – a picture perfect moment.
Funnily enough, an hour later, the stars begin their twinkling once more and the sun is setting somewhere behind the mountain range again turning the brightest lights of sunrise into a deep red-orange. The moon is bright and round above the dog kennel, ‘night’ falls and it is 13:00 in the afternoon. Time to get you head torch on again!
Amazing twilight events on clear days like this let you easily forget about moody grey and stormy days.
Has the polar night affected how we feel?
Yes, certainly we notice how the lack of natural light affects us. At the beginning, it felt like our bodies and minds took a little more time to wake up in the morning, waiting for the sun to rise and shine. Sometimes we felt like bears desperate to go back into hibernation! But of course strong Norwegian coffee and fresh air easily fixed that problem! The days can also feel quite long, by lunchtime it sometimes feels like your working day should be nearly over. Vitamin D tablets are a good tip for visitors to Tromsø during this time. Enjoying a good meal, music and hot drinks in front of the fire is also a great solution to enjoy the polar nights.
Quickly we began to adapt to the short daylight hours. Outdoor activities had to be planned according to the civil twilight to get the views of the amazing landscapes and using a head torch soon became natural. Going for a run or exercise outdoors during polar night? Of course! Safety vest or high-visibility clothing on, headlamp, suitable active gear and let’s go! Basically, you can do everything as normal with just a little extra preparation. Being active as well as maintaining a daily schedule helped us feel energetic. Working and cuddling outside with the dogs in the fresh air keeps us happy, fit and physical – perfect! Combined with a balanced diet and spending time with friends we noticed how this helps a lot against tiredness. Also, your mindset plays a huge part. It is just as dark as you want it to be. With all the amazing phenomena like blue light, pinkish twilights, the magical northern lights, it is actually an awesome time to visit northern Norway.
Staying ‘koselig’ over Christmas
The great thing about the ‘dark season’ is that it is the perfect excuse to curl up with a good book and hot chocolate by the fire – this is where the norwegian word ‘koselig’ comes in useful. It means to enjoy low light, simple food, calming music and a cosy fire. We are ready with a Christmas star in our cabin window and a huge lit-up Christmas tree in front of the dog garden – and of course some Gløgg and homemade “polar bear” cookies!
Winter above the arctic circle is a ‘dark’ time. But it also is the time of magical lights in various ways. It is a time to share the lights of hope, gratitude and love. Keep on shining!