The Land of the Midnight Sun

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Denmark is not the land of the midnight sun. That title belongs only to places above the Arctic Circle where the sun actually does not set at night.

BUT… Denmark is getting pretty close. This coming Saturday, the 21st, is the longest day of the year, Midsummer’s Day aka the summer solstice. And on that day, the sun will rise at 4:30am and set at 10:15pm, giving us a total of almost 18 hours of sunlight.

Which is pretty awesome if you think about it. But also maybe not so awesome? Because it wreaks havoc with my sleep schedule. At first I thought it was because it stays light so late, so it makes turning your brain off and actually falling asleep more difficult.

I mean, just look at what 10pm looks like in Aarhus!

10pm Sky in Aarhus

10pm Sky in Aarhus

 

It’s like it gets to 3pm, and it just never gets any darker than that. And even when the sun does finally set, the twilight lingers until well after 11pm. And it’s bright enough that I don’t need any lights if I have to get up to make my way to the bathroom.

But I’ve recently decided that the really hard part is the early morning sun. I keep waking up at 5:00 in the morning and thinking it’s well past 8:00, then finding it difficult to go back to sleep. It’s crazy bananas.

Luckily, I’ve dug out a sleeping mask we bought for long plane trips and have been wearing that to bed. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to get any sleep at all as I’m a fairly light sleeper.

This is what I'm like to the sun in the morning.

I’m not the best morning person.

We’re trying to decide what we should do to mark the occasion of midsummer night. We may try to stay up all night and see the sun rise, but we’ll see if we actually do it in the end. I never was one for all nighters.

The Danes actually celebrate the occasion on June 23rd, what they call Sankthans (their version of the Catholic holiday St. John’s Day, celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist). And they mark this holiday with huge bonfires over which effigies of witches are burned. I’m not even kidding. Actually, they burn them to send them off to Germany, where, clearly, all the evil witches belong.

We’ll definitely try to track down some of the bonfires and see how the Danes celebrate this holiday. If you’re in Aarhus for the occasion, you can check this calendar to find some bonfires near you.

Summer’s Almost Here!

Finally we’re seeing some sun in Denmark. We were in Copenhagen last week and had beautiful weather the whole time, which is a first. Usually it rains nonstop every time we’re there. Though it’s a little cooler and cloudier here in Aarhus, I can finally glimpse summer around the corner. So in honor of the coming summer, I thought I’d make a little list of what this turning of the seasons means for someone like me living in Denmark:

  1. Light! June 21st is the longest day of the year, and every day we get closer to that date we’re seeing longer and longer nights. We get almost 3 minutes more sunlight every day, to be exact. Tonight, the sun isn’t supposed to set until 9:47pm, and the twilight lingers until 10:30 or so. After a dark winter and gloomy spring, this extra light is very much appreciated.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn.

    A picture of Marselisborg Lystbådehavn at sunset. This was taken at about 9:40pm over the weekend.

  2. Parties in the park. The sun is so much appreciated that the minute work is over people flood the parks of Denmark to hang out in the sun. I’m in no way exaggerating. It looks like people waiting for the fireworks to start on the 4th of July. In Copenhagen we stayed near the King’s Garden by Rosenborg, and at 2pm people started trickling in. By 5pm, the park was PACKED. Of course, we were right there along with everyone, enjoying our pizza al fresco.Partying in the Park

    Mmm, pizza.

    Who puts salad on a pizza?! 

  3. Late night walks. Because of the light nights, we’ve started taking more walks after dinner, even as late as 9pm, while the sun is setting. It’s really fantastic.Sunset Walk
  4. Sunglasses. (Is this really the fourth item on the list that has to do with the increased sunlight? Why yes, yes it is. It really is that important.) I don’t know if this is just me, but I swear the sunlight here is stronger or brighter or something. I noticed this when we first arrived last summer, too. As a result, if I go outside for a few hours without my sunglasses, I’m guaranteed to get a headache. So now my sunglasses, which I never used to wear in the US, go on as soon as I leave the house. It has the added benefit of making me look really cool.

    Yep, super cool.

    Yep, super cool.

  5. Flowers. They enjoy the sun, too, and they are everywhere right about now and soooo pretty.IMG_1961
  6. Strawberries. The coming summer means that we’re starting to see more variety in the produce at the grocery store. I actually saw whole pineapples the other day! (And bought one immediately.) And bing cherries. Those are my favorite. I can’t wait until later in the season when they arrive really ripe. But the one most important fruit for a Danish summer is the Danish strawberry. They’re really big on strawberries around here, and I have to say that I don’t blame them. I bought this batch just the other day, and they are without a doubt some of the best strawberries I’ve ever eaten. Yum!The Delicious Berry
  7. Softis. It’s like someone took your everyday soft serve ice cream, stirred in a healthy portion of whipped cream, and served it to you on a cone. It’s the traditional Danish ice cream and a special summer treat. And it’s delicious.  But the Danes love ice cream of any kind, and the minute it is even a little warm and sunny outside you’ll see people lined up out the door to get some. The only kind of ice cream I’ve had trouble finding here is the harder kind that’s more typical in the US. We’ve pretty much had to buy some (veeeery expensive) Ben & Jerry’s cartons at the store if we’re craving that texture. But it’s not really necessary because the soft ice cream (resembling gilato) that is all over in Aarhus is really yummy.
    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

    Nom nom nom. The strawberry swirl is our favorite flavor.

     

So that, so far, is what late spring/early summer in Denmark means for us. Hopefully soon we’ll get to try some other Danish summer traditions like grilling outside and visiting the West coast for a dip in the ocean. But we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got so far.

And You Thought I Was Exaggerating

So remember a couple weeks ago when I said that I could really do with some sunshine? Well, apparently it wasn’t all in my head. Nor was it a factor of this being my first winter in Scandinavia.

According to this article from the Copenhagen Post, this is the gloomiest January since 1988. So far – now, prepare yourselves for this. Maybe you might want to sit down. This might be a bit of a shock – so far, there have only been 17 hours of sunlight in the entire month of January.

I’ll just let that sink in.

17 hours of sunlight in an entire month. And frankly, I don’t know when those 17 hours happened because I sure don’t remember them. They must have all been over Copenhagen.

So what does this mean for my everyday life? Well, yesterday I was walking to the bus stop and there was one lighter patch of clouds against all the dark grey clouds. And for that moment, the street noticeably brightened. And I got very excited. About a patch of light grey clouds. Because it meant I could believe that the sun was actually back there somewhere.

And now that it’s cold enough that instead of mist rain every day we have light snow every day. I’m pretty sure it’s been snowing constantly since last week.

And we all feel like Ned, here, because we thought winter was over after Christmas. But really, winter is just beginning.

Got Winter

And I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

The Dark is Rising

OK, I totally ripped off the title for this blog post from a Susan Cooper novel – which is a really excellent book by the way and which you should all go read now – but it’s for a good purpose. Well, mostly I did it because it’s catchy. But I also did it to emphasize a point: the dark has come to Denmark. And it’s both exactly what I expected and totally different.

The expected part is that as of today the sun doesn’t rise until about 8am and it sets by 4:30pm. So poor Brian goes to and from work in the dark. (Like in the dark dark, with bike headlights and reflective gear required.) This early dark in the evening has the effects you would expect. It always feels about 2 hours later than it actually is, so we’ve found ourselves going to bed earlier than we normally would. And Brian has serious trouble some days in waking up and getting going in the morning.

Surprisingly, you really do feel the effect when the sun goes down. Sometimes, we’ll be out running errands around 4:30pm, and I definitely feel a difference in my body and energy level as that sun sinks towards the horizon. It’s like your body is saying, “OK enough of this galavanting around. Time to have dinner and go to bed.”

The unexpected thing is that even while the sun is up it casts a kind of dim, half-powered light. Because where Denmark is on the Earth has rotated away from the sun, it never fully rises into the sky. Now, it’s not anything like Northern Alaska where the sun just skims the horizon, but it never reaches apogee either. And this fact makes even sunny days dimmer, like there’s a haze. Or like you only ever get afternoon light. So you go outside thinking it’s 11am, but the quality of the light is telling your body that it’s in the afternoon and getting towards dark. It’s the weirdest thing.

And the stupidly unexpected thing – the thing I really should have expected but didn’t for some reason – is that it is rarely sunny in Denmark in the fall/winter. It is usually overcast and misting. So even when the sun does “rise” (note the sarcastic quotes) at 8am, it remains dark and cloudy all day. Which means that it feels like the sun rises even later and sets even earlier than it actually does.

This seems to be having the most negative effect on moods and energy levels in our house. When the sun does shine for a few hours a day, at least we have clear, bright sunlight for those few hours. But this constant gloaming twilight is a whole other ball game. It just kind of feels like you have to push a little harder. And it’s harder for me to do certain things – like, ahem, study for my upcoming Danish test – when it feels like it’s evening and thus I should be relaxing.

This is only going to get worse, of course – The Dark is Rising, remember – until December 21st, the shortest day of the year. Thank god for Christmas and all the hygge it entails.

P.S. For those with some questions on the concept of hygge, watch this video of Danes describing the concept as they walk the rainy streets of Copenhagen.