...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness

In winter I get up at night
and dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I’ve heard from many that November is the most tiresome month for Swedes. At this time of the year, one goes to work in the darkness and goes home in the darkness, spending what little daylight hours there ever was indoors. Outdoors, one is even lucky to see the sun at all behind a grey sheet of raincloud (in 2004, the sun only managed to show itself for 17 hours during the course of the whole month). Temperatures begin to fall with the rain and snow, and people wrap themselves in woolen jackets of even grayer shades. Getting out of bed to meet the day is a chore, and when it gets pitch dark and you’re ready to sleep “in the evening”, you realize that it’s only 5.

All that gloom is taking a turn now, despite the fact that the nights are getting even longer and will continue to do so until mid-December. Now it smells like Christmas, and this week – the first week of advent – Swedes have begun decorating with lights and placing advent candlesticks (or their electric imitations) on windowsills. It is, after all, better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and I suppose no other group knows this saying better than the biggest consumers of candles in the world. Besides, a few measly hours of sunlight is better than no sunlight at all, which is what they have to struggle with at the North Cape for two whole months (we just watched a Norwegian documentary on the municipality this afternoon).

The two lessons here seem to be: fight the darkness and be thankful for the sunlight, but it’s not at all as brutish and “survivalist” as it sounds. On the contrary, as Sweden approaches its darkest period, the atmosphere seems to take a festive turn. Darkness becomes part of the Christmas ambiance, of the “Swedish way of things”, and even define (as some say) the Swedish temperament at this time: quiet, a bit reserved, but nonetheless alert for the little joys in life and expectant for the Christmas party to come. It’s as if they adopt the darkness as theme worth celebrating once advent begins, and decorate the dark with candle-glow as opposed to warding it away with spotlights.

Here at the countryside (where we’re again spending the weekend), it is coal black behind the windowpane and the wind howls as I write. It probably would have scared the shit out of superstitious people from the last century and would have given them another reason to light lamps and fires. Even now, however, light hasn’t ceased to give a sense of security and shelter in what is supposed to be the lowest and definintely the darkest time of the year.


Blogger aka Cheryl said...

hi joy! i love this post, esp this part, "It’s as if they adopt the darkness as theme worth celebrating once advent begins, and “decorate” the dark with candle-glow as opposed to warding it away with spotlights."

just sharing, it's getting colder here in manila. sometimes i sleep til noon and find out i didn't have the fan turned on. ang sarap! and i'd be going to china in january. di ko alam kung makakayanan ko ba ang lamig dun. it reaches 1C daw, e ang pinakamalamig ko na atang napuntahan ay buses going to the province, hahaha. how many layers of clothing do i need to dress warmly? wala akong budget to buy new jackets that i might not use again, hehe.

2:22 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi Cheryl! Glad you liked it, I got inspired yesterday since they started Christmas decorating around here. :-)

Wow, CHINA! Where there? How long? With whom? How?

I think (and Marcus agrees) that the best thing you can probably bring with you are a pair of gloves and something for your head (where you lose a lot of body heat from). Aside from that, Marcus says that it's more important to have shoes with thick soles than to have thick socks on thin-soled shoes (because your feet get cold by conduction).

Then there's the clothes-layering thing: wearing cotton closest to the body is not recommendable because it absorbs a lot of water and will make you cold. Inner shirts of wool (available at Marks and Spencer there) or of synthetic materials are better and will keep you warmer. Then you wear an insulating layer of fleece (good if you're planning to stay out long of if it's windy) And finally, you might want to consider bringing a wind- and water- proof jacket.

But then again, you don't have to overdo it for a short trip. Just remember the hat, gloves, avoid cotton and wear a wind-proof jacket; remember to keep rested and full, and to drink a lot of water and hot drinks. You'll survive :-)

Maybe I should write a blog entry on this one day, since I always keep on getting this question.

4:40 PM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

thanks for taking the time to make such a long reply!

i'd go there this january for 4 full days with friends. we'd fly in to shanghai, fly to beijing, ride the train back to shanghai, then back to manila. :) cebu pacific had a piso fare sale to china, so bumili kami, haha.

check on the scarf, bonnet and gloves. as for shoes -- ok na ba ang rubber shoes? not sneakers but rubber shoes ha...

layering sounds tricky, but thanks for the tip abt non-cotton inner shirts! and when you say wind-proof, this is windbreaker-type of jacket?

yes you should write more abt this! a clothing guide: how to survive winter. hahaha

5:47 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Hi again Cheryl!

Yeah, since it's still going to be positive degrees, I think rubber shoes will be no problem (I actually took some time to reply to this comment because I looked around and spied on what others were wearing to verify my statement.) I have leather "boxer" boots on myself, I saw a lot of people wearing the regular Chuck Taylors today, on 6 C degrees.

However, I did read from a "dressing for winter" site that you shouldn't have cotton socks on either (choose synthetics like polyester). I also wear socks that go up to my knees because jeans (which are cotton) don't resist cold that much. I should follow my own advice! :-) (I'm saving wearing the leggings until it gets really cold)

I didn't know what a windbreaker was until I looked it up in Wikipedia (haha). I think it's like one of the jackets I have here (which resists wind and *light* rain), but anyway, if it looks like it can keep the elements out, it's good (as long as you're also wearing something warm and insulating under it) Cardigans don't exactly do unless you're only out for short bouts at a time, try sweaters that look like they're good for Baguio.


8:27 PM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

thanks for these joy! i think i have everything you've recommended already. looks like i'm all set :D

3:50 AM


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