How locals deal with winter in the Nordics | #nordicinsider

Can you believe it’s October yet?

I feel as though this year has just been flying by in an instant and I can’t quite wrap my around the fact that it’s only 6 weeks until I’m allowed to officially get into the Christmas spirit - I would already start singing Christmas songs but my ever so charming boyfriend Simon, aka the Grinch, thinks that I should wait until at least mid-November.

Very unthoughtful of him if you ask me…

Anyway, the other week I got this question on Instagram:

How do locals deal with the lack of sunlight in winter in the Nordics? Do they have depression? Are there any cultural traditions to deal with this time of year?

This is a question I’m being asked quite often at work (being a tour guide) as well and I thought that now as the days are definitely getting shorter and shorter “up here”, it would be a good time to provide you with some information as to what locals think about winter!

Have you always wondered how locals deal with winter in the Nordics? Do they get depression? Are there any cultural traditions to get through winter? Read my blog post and find out more!

General attitudes towards winter

Of course, how locals deal with winter depends a lot on each individual person and where they live exactly. Having lived for 3 years in the Norwegian Arctic and (at this point) 1 year in Southern Norway, I know that perceptions about winter differ greatly throughout the north and south of Norway alone, so surely they differ a lot more across cultures.

The general attitude about winter seems to differ between areas north and south of the Arctic Circle, though. While most people I know in Tromsø or Bodø in Northern Norway are either quite fond of winter or simply don’t really care about the lack of daylight much, people here in the south of the country seem to be affected a lot more.

What seems to be the key in this issue isn’t the lack of daylight, though - it seems as though it’s the lack of snow!

Pretty much everyone I know back in Tromsø enjoys the winter season for at least one of the following reasons:

  • the snow is finally back which means being able to ski whenever you have some free-time (people even ski to work if they’re lucky enough to live close to the right loipe)

  • you can get cosy (or “koselig” as Norwegians like to call it) inside, for instance with a good book and a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate in front of a fireplace

  • you can admire the Northern Lights at night and the most beautiful sunset/sunrise colours in the sky during the day (at least leading up to and right after polar night), as the sun tries to make its way above the horizon

  • you don’t need to wear make-up as it’s dark anyway (though I guess, that one mostly applies to the female population…)

Winter light in North-Eastern Finland

Winter light in North-Eastern Finland

Stavanger-locals on the other hand, have been telling me how much they despise winter in the city because it only ever rains and it’s grey and miserable outside, whereas they think that winter in Tromsø must be amazing as the snow illuminates everything a lot more.

I’ve experienced similar attitudes when I visited Finland this past January. While people up north in Ruka-Kuusamo seemed to love winter as it’s peak ski season, Helsinki-locals seemed to despise the miserable and rainy weather until the day the city finally got some proper snow as well.

So generally speaking, Nordic locals are rather fond of winter, as long as there’s snow around - regardless of how much daylight they have available.

Of course, things slow down a bit and people get cosy inside in the Nordics as much as anywhere else, BUT they don’t stop enjoying the outdoors in winter.

Quite the contrary: A region that has so much wilderness and nature to offer, Nordic locals have established illuminated skiing tracks, alpine centres and outdoor swimming pools - all in order to enjoy the outdoors even during the winter. While Norwegians love to go skiing, Finns love to visit the sauna and then jump into an ice-cold lake or the ocean afterwards.

winter in scandinavia

Things don’t shut down during winter as is so often the case in Southern Europe - instead, people embrace winter and make the best of it! Cafes and restaurants still offer outdoor seating in winter - with reindeer furs as seat covers, and candles and heaters everywhere.

And then there’s a saying that goes for all the Nordic countries:

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Coping mechanisms

This doesn’t mean that locals don’t have coping mechanisms to deal with winter. However, instead of thinking about ways to “get through” winter, people try to think of ways to make winter “even better”.

For many people, it’s all about the attitude after all.

However, due to the location of the Nordics in relation to the sun, people do suffer from a lack of vitamin D here - according to my doctors, many without even realising it. The common perception that people soak up enough vitamin D during the long summer days of the Nordics, is nothing more than a myth and simply not how it works.

1. Supplements

Therefore, vitamin D supplements are readily available in the region and Norwegians in particular, swear by fish oil. Many people believe that a spoonful of cod liver oil a day is enough to keep up your vitamin D levels, while also preventing or fighting an upcoming cold.

I can’t tell you whether that’s actually true or not, but I do know that the fish oil industry earns a lot between October and March - that’s for sure!

2. Cultural events

Many of my guests believe that Norway shuts down during winter and nobody socializes anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! There is actually quite a lot going on in the Nordics, for instance:

  • Iceland Airwaves Music Festival, Reykjavik, October

  • Polar Circle Marathon, Kangerlussuaq (Greenland), October

  • Dark Season Blues Festival in Svalbard, October

  • Lucia - the festival of lights, all over Sweden on December 13

  • Polar Night Marathon, Tromsø, January

  • Tromsø International Film Festival, January

  • Kiruna Snow Festival, Sweden, January

  • Sami National Day in Tromsø, as well as Jokkmokk (Sweden) in February

In Tromsø and Svalbard in Arctic Norway, the day the sun returns after polar night is also celebrated by kindergarden classes singing the “sun” song (the lyrics go something like “sun sun come on, the sun is my best friend”) and everyone in town eating “sun buns” (baked buns filled with jam, decorated with icing sugar).

Thinking about moving here yourself?

If you’re thinking about moving to the Nordics, no matter if you’re planning to live above the Arctic Circle or in Southern Scandinavia/Finland/Iceland/Greenland, you may or may not experience winter depression or seasonal affective disorder by the lack of daylight.

A January afternoon in Helsinki

A January afternoon in Helsinki

While locals are less prone to suffer from winter depression as they have grown up with the different seasons and thus, aren’t affected by them as much, you might find it hard to cope with the lack of daylight at first.

Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to fight symptoms of winter depression, such as:

  • taking vitamin D supplements

  • trying daylight lamps or visiting the solarium

  • going outside during daylight hours

However, some people are more prone to suffer from winter depression than others and it’s not a given that these coping mechanisms will help you. I myself had to leave the Arctic after 3 years as the only thing that helped me in winter were light anti-depressants and I didn’t want to depend on those each winter for the rest of my life - it’s just not worth it.

So before even making detailed plans to move up north, ask yourself how you like winter where you currently live and be prepared for the possibility that you might not cope with winter in the Nordics very well - which is absolutely fine, not everyone does!

Most locals can absolutely understand that foreigners may struggle with the long and dark winters and should you meet someone who tries to tell you that you’re just being whiny, don’t you dare listen to them. Seasonal affective disorder is real and I wouldn’t want to wish it upon anyone.

winter in scandinavia

Then again, it took my own boyfriend quite a while himself to understand the severity of the condition and I’m pretty sure that some of his friends still can’t quite understand why he chose to move to Southern Norway with me - let alone his own family who still hopes we’ll move back sooner or later, urgh.

So, I guess that sums up how locals throughout the Nordics think about winter in general: for most of them, it’s simply no big deal at al!

Have you experienced winter up north? And what are some of your best strategies to make winter even better?

Share your advice in a comment below or by using the #nordicinsider on Instagram!