After fall comes winter. Winter is the time when routine begins to settle in our daily lives again and the air turns from drizzly wet to crispy cold. All of a sudden, the indecisive switch back and forth from warmish to cooler days turns into a seasonably familiar cold air and a lingering darkness. The eternal darkness becomes the hue we wake up to as we head to work and school, and the closer we get to the holiday season, the lingering darkness settles earlier and earlier in the afternoon and before we know, we find ourselves returning home in a hue of darkness too.
It’s this darkness that we struggle with so much, that we resist despite the nocturnal call for sleep in the early hours of the morning when we should be getting up. Everything becomes more difficult. Going to gym in pitch dark, clearing the car in pitch dark, getting dressed for school and work, all of these daily routines become twice as hard.
We fight the darkness with an awe-inspiring attempt to light up the holiday season. We put up lights in our windows—each and every one—and each and every street corner is lit up with an array of lights.
My favorite day of the holiday season is the 23rd of December. On the eve of the 23rd, the city centre of Reykjavík is full of life. Families, couples, groups of friends and intrigued visitors fill the streets with life from top to bottom.
Christmas music plays in every corner and we literally inhale the spirit of the holiday season walking down the narrow streets. It’s the most wonderful time of year and during the best of times, it’s even possible to cross the lake in the center, Tjörnin or 'the Lake.'
A less endearing aspect of winter is the resilient winter pest. The winter pest is the constant exchange of bacteria and viral infections in the workplace, classroom and most of all, daycare. Our favorite one is the never-ending case of cold. It’s all part of the seasonal joy. But what travelers come to see from all over the world are the magnificent northern lights, the beautiful Aurora. They don’t mind the darkness and they don’t mind the cold. The cold and the darkness is part of the overall experience.
I have a lot of contact with tourists through my work and at this time of year I am asked on a daily basis if the northern lights will be out and what they’re like. Aurora Borealis, the beautiful maiden lights of the north, is the reason they come to Iceland. Most people envision them as the flickering neon-green lights chasing across the sky next to glittering stars on a clear night.
I won’t lie to you. It’s an amazing sight and when they’re at their best, my husband and I take a walk with our dog Emma to enjoy the sight. On such nights the air is perfectly crisp and often not a breeze to be felt.
But sometimes it’s no more than a thin line across the sky, a line a little like a white thin cloud in the skyline. We’re fortunate to live with such a natural phenomena in our backyard, approximately six months of the year, and sometimes more.
Another aspect of the Icelandic winter are the storms. Snow blizzards and strong winds combined with frosty temperatures and hazardous icy roads slow down the traffic and cause a bit of a stir.
We pride ourselves for our perseverance and endurance in the face of this sort of weather. We are proud to say that we don’t let this weather upset us and go on with our lives as if nothing stands in the way.
Sometimes that bites us in the rear end with consequences such as accidents, some more severe than others, and we are forced to reconsider the force that is Icelandic winter.
Sometimes we do endure and despite nasty weather and hazardous road conditions, we go about our lives like we always do. Maybe it’s a case of good luck, maybe not.
There was a time I didn’t understand the true nature of the Icelandic winter. It took my going away for years and years to understand how unique our winter is and how winter possesses us with all its force despite our otherwise understanding.
I told my husband once, before we moved to Iceland, that winters here are no different than those in London. I lied. Not on purpose. I just forgot. I forgot how incredibly possessive and ruthless it can be. How it can dominate so much of our lives.
We do not stand defeated and bowed to our knees in humility. We know it’s not so ruthless that we cannot make a case to stand our ground once in a while. But it does mean we need to show sufficient understanding for the conditions that can come about in the severest of weather. A mixture of humility and courage is what it takes. Nothing more and nothing less.
My advice to travelers who visit Iceland in winter is to be cautious, to check for the latest road conditions and weather forecasts on safetravel.is, and to not take unnecessary risks.
The Icelandic bravado is a foe in its own right and there’s no need to imitate it. Perhaps this pseudo-bravado medicates us with the hope that it’ll all come an end and peace will settle on our shores again.
Summer is a holiday from routine, a holiday from storm warnings (at least most of the time) and from getting up in the early hours of the morning in darkness. Instead, we live in constant daylight, and yes, it can become as exhausting as the dark of night in the afternoon.
Even though winter can be troublesome, there is one necessity of life that thrives in winter and that’s sleep. So now that winter is upon us with all its uncertainty, I am already looking forward to nights of long deep sleep, uninterrupted by the light of day.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]