Since the days started getting noticeably longer again last March and spring’s revitalizing daylight filled me with added energy like a vitamin shot, I’ve been dreading the time when the bright summer nights would be long gone and the last fiery orange birch leaf of the autumn had fallen to the ground.
Winter officially began in Iceland last weekend. I no longer wake up to daylight peeking through my curtains to remind me morning has come; it is completely dark outside and the sun won’t rise until after I’ve been working for at least an hour.
Darkness will swallow an ever larger part of the day until the winter solstice in late December—around the time when Iceland is only granted two hours of daylight in a day—before light reemerges with increased strength and conquers the depressing darkness.
That’s how many experience this time of year. That’s how some of my foreign colleagues feel when they have to go to work while it is still dark outside and ignore the protests from their biological clocks telling them it is the middle of the night, and once the workday has come to an end, return home in pitch black darkness.
Depressed is how many Icelanders feel when they are faced with gloomy skies day in and day out—and it has not left me untouched either—so depressed that some even decide life is no longer worth living. Suicide rates among young people, especially young men, are high in Iceland’s remotest villages that get the least light in winter and where unemployment adds to the inhabitants’ winter depression. It is so common that we have a word for it: Skammdegisthunglyndi, or “short-day depression.”
For this reason I dreaded this season.
But, curiously enough, depressed is not what I was feeling the first day I woke up to a dark winter morning this year. I was tired, I admit, but while dragging myself out of bed, a happy feeling slid into my consciousness, like Christmas bells indicating that festive times lie ahead. Once outside, I noticed it wasn’t raining anymore, like it has for almost two months straight.
The ground was covered with snow and frost glistened on windshields like sparkling diamonds. Stars blinked at me from above. It was cold, but the air was crisp and vitalizing. I wrapped my coat tighter around me, put on my mittens and carefully covered my ears with a hat that makes me look like “an overgrown kindergarten kid,” to quote my brother, and strolled to work cheerfully, determined to make this a wonderful day.
Soon, Christmas lights will brighten up the darkness and the friendly flickering of candlelight will chase the frost out of our souls. When the working day is done, we can make ourselves comfortable in the sofa with a good book in hand, a blanked wrapped around us and a cup with steaming hot chocolate on the coffee table. We can do this without feeling guilty because it is dark outside and we don’t have to be doing anything that we may do when the sun is shining.
That’s how I feel now at least; ask me again in January.
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