When the Sun Does Not Rise


 “THE sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises,” says the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 1:5, New International Version) From mid-November till the end of January, however, sunrise and sunset may not be obvious in many areas north of the Arctic Circle. Here people have no choice but to endure the long dark nights of the Arctic winter.

To a lesser degree, long nights are also experienced in areas south of the Arctic Circle. For example, in St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Oslo, Norway​—cities all less than 500 miles [800 km] south of the Arctic Circle—​daylight in midwinter lasts only about six hours.

“The image that Arctic winters are pitch-black is not correct,” says Ari, who spent his childhood in Kiruna, Swedish Lapland. Much of the day can be summed up in one word, “twilight.” Paula, an artist who lives in Finnish Lapland, says, “When Lapland is wrapped in snow, the colors turn pastel shades of blue and violet.”

Dark winters have a negative effect on some people. “I feel the changes of the seasons and climate very keenly,” wrote Jean Sibelius, a famous Finnish composer. He added: “In wintertime, when the day is short, I always have a period of depression.” Sibelius was by no means the only person who was a victim of the so-called winter blues. Even the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460-c. 377 B.C.E.) believed that seasons affect people’s moods.

It was not until the 1980’s, however, that the winter blues, or winter depression, was defined as a syndrome. Studies have revealed that among northern peoples a small percentage of the population suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A milder version called subsyndromal SAD, is three or four times more common. Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to be somewhat affected.

Andrei, in St. Petersburg, Russia, says, “I feel like sleeping all the time.” Annika, who lives in Finland, is saddened by the approach of winter. “Sometimes,” she says, “the darkness makes me feel almost claustrophobic because there is no place to escape from it.”

Experts recommend a variety of methods to cope with winter depression. For instance, some recommend that one should be outdoors as often as possible during daylight. Those who engage in outdoor physical activities during the winter also report relief from the winter blues.

Jarmo, who has experienced winters both in northern and southern Finland, says, “In the gloomiest time, we burn more candles and keep more lights turned on.” Some have found relief by receiving bright-light therapy. Others take a break from the dark winter by vacationing in a more southerly country. Some warn, however, that after a sunny vacation in such a place, returning to the darkness of winter may cause certain people to feel even gloomier.

Nutrition is another factor to consider. Because sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, the lack of sunlight can cause a deficiency of it. Hence, some recommend a winter increase in the consumption of foods containing vitamin D, such as fish, liver, and dairy products.

The very factors that bring winter darkness also bring an abundance of light. As the earth keeps moving in its orbit, little by little it turns its cold top toward the sun. Gradually, sunlight begins to dominate the day. Then comes the Arctic summer, a season when sunlight can be enjoyed even in the middle of the night!

[Blurb on page 27]

Much of the day can be summed up in one word, “twilight”

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Noontime during the Arctic winter

[Credit Line]

Dr. Hinrich Bäsemann/​Naturfoto-Online

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For many, the lack of direct sunlight can be depressing