The nights are long but beautiful during a Norwegian winter

January 17, 2019, 10:09 a.m.
This is Øvervatnet lake in Norway at 2:51 p.m. local time Dec. 14, 2016.
Photo: Frankemann/Wikimedia Commons

For much of winter, the northern tips of Norway that spill into the Arctic Circle rarely see the sun.

It's the flip-side of the area's famous midnight sun, a period when the sun is visible nearly all day from May to July. Call them polar nights.

The picture above shows off the beauty of a lake in Fauske, Norway, in December 2016. It may look like early evening, but the photographer took the photo at 2:51 p.m. local time. This was during the so-called "blue hour," a stretch of time when the sun is sort of creeping just over the horizon, enough to bring a little bit of light to the sky.

A farm near Tromsø, Norway, Jan. 11, 2019, during a day of polar night A farm near Tromsø, Norway, in January 2019, during a day of polar night. (Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

The sun occasionally peeks out from around late morning to early afternoon, depending on how far north you are. For instance, if you're in Tromsø, the largest northern Norwegian city, you can expect a little bit of weak sunlight from around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time. Once it's gone, though — or if the cloud cover is too dense — it's darkness at noon.

Two to three months of darkness with very few slivers of sunlight may sound horrible, but that's not what you hear from the people who actually live there. A 2015 article from The Atlantic from psychology graduate student Kari Leibowitz, who visited Tromsø to study happiness rates during polar nights, found that rather than surviving the winter, the residents thrived and were very happy during the polar nights.

A person runs over a snowy hill near Tromsø A person runs over a hill near Tromsø on January 2019, enjoying a dark day of snowy fun. (Photo: Harald Groven/Flickr)

"In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured," Kari Leibowitz, the student, wrote. "According to my friends, winter in Tromsø would be full of snow, skiing, the northern lights and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for 'cozy.' By November, open-flame candles would adorn every café, restaurant, home and even workspace. Over the following months I learned firsthand that, far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light."

And that doesn't sound horrible at all.

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