Christmas is a time of lights and colour in the middle of winter darkness, and it’s the same even at the most northerly part of Finland where the sun doesn’t rise.
At this time of year in much of Lapland, there’s technically only night time for 52 days in a row.
It’s a period known as Polar Night in English, kaamos in Finnish and skábma in the Northern Sámi language, but local residents say it’s not as dark as you might expect.
“Living here in kaamos it’s quite awesome. Immediate when the snow comes and when there is a full moon you can see from Finland to the other side of the river to Norway. You can see the trees and everything, it’s not that dark” explains Aslat Jon Länsman, a resident of Finland’s most northerly village Nuorgam, separated from Norway by a river and an international border.
Länsman says that when he visits the capital during winter, more than 1300km south of Nuorgam, the darkness can seem worse.
“In the city in Helsinki when it’s all asphalt, and still if there are street lights it’s really dark and depressing” he explains.
Working on his family reindeer business, Aslat Jon is busy during December turning reindeer meat into deli products which he sells across Finland as well as in Norway. In the run-up to Christmas he’s been producing cold smoked reindeer but is quite used to the darkest time of winter
“For me maybe, I have been living here my whole life, and it’s not that big deal. Maybe I get a little bit tired in the mornings” he explains.
“We have daylight for maybe two hours. Not even that long. But usually our day starts with the morning routine, we have two small kids, and things take time! But when we go out we see my God, it’s dark again!”
Natural Arctic seasons
While Polar Night might be an alien concept if you’ve never visited the Arctic during winter, for the Sámi people it’s part of the eight different seasons which mark the year.
“Here in the Arctic each season differs a lot from the other. So it’s totally natural to have this time of year” says Anna Näkkäläjärvi-Länsman who lives in Utsjoki.
“Of course it’s a little bit tough to try and work at the same time, and this is the busiest part of the year in reindeer herding. It can be tough. But we don’t complain about it. It’s how the world is built here and we have to accept, because nature is still ruling our lives” she says.
Anna, who is a musician and teacher, explains how even in the darkest days there is still plenty of light and colour to be found in the north.
“It’s not dark. We still have so many beautiful colours. It’s still a little bit light at noon. The sky can be pink and orange and so many pastel colours. We have the moon and the Aurora Borealis [Northern Lights]. Really beautiful colours” she says.
This year the snow came late to Finnish Lapland, and even Anna concedes that it was tough to cope with the darkness.
“It was like being inside a black plastic bag or something!” she laughs.
“The days were dark but we didn’t have snow and get light from there. That was tough. But luckily the snow came” she adds.
Getting outside to experience nature
One piece of advice to beat the kaamos blues is to get outside, says Utsjoki Mayor Vuokko Tieva-Niityvuopio.
“Even though I go home after a working day and it’s very dark outside I think I need very much energy just to go out for a walk. It’s quite difficult” she says.
“But on the weekend if I can be outside in bright weather, I am very energised after that” Vuokko explains.
“I think we are used to the darkness here. The people working in our municipality, they have been born here and living here a long time, and I think it’s quite natural this time of year. There’s not sunlight, but we have snow and we have very bright stars and the moon, and I think it’s not as dark as people must think in the south” she adds.
All that wilderness, the lack of light pollution, the clear view of the stars and a chance to see the Northern Lights dancing green across the sky are the main reasons that tourists flock to the region throughout the winter.
At Destination Utsjoki, Katariina van Boxtel has been back in Finland for only two years after a long time living in the Netherlands.
“I still have to get used to it, but it’s not really so dark. It’s actually very beautiful” she says.
“The sun is not coming up but it is still colouring the sky for many hours, and then there’s this blue light that only comes at this time of year, and of course the Northern Lights and if there is a full moon it is very beautiful”