Saturday, March 7, 2015

We made it.

Walking from my office to the bus's actually
light out and the sky is blue not grey!
To March, that is.  Whew.  We made it to March, a month where sunlight is a thing that actually exists.

When we moved to Denmark last March (more on that big anniversary later), we arrived on this beautiful spring day with the sun shining and most of the city out riding bikes.  And it pretty much just improved from there.  The days got longer, the weather got warmer, and we settled into to life here.  But I did think it was a little odd that, often, one of the first things people here would ask me when they learned that I had just moved to Denmark was "can you handle the weather?"

Can I handle the weather?  There didn't seem to be too much to handle.  Moderate temperatures and no snow until January with the bonus of the best summer weather that Denmark has had in past 10 years.  Didn't seem too hard to me.  Sure, it rained a lot, but nothing crazy.  "Just wait until the winter" they'd say.  Ok, but it's not like cold and snow are foreign concepts to me.

As it turns out, questioning my ability to handle colder temperatures and a few snowy days was probably the wrong thing to be asking.  In that respect, the winters I experienced in Pittsburgh and Boulder were definitely worse than Denmark.  No, the worst part of Danish winter, by far, was the utter lack of sunlight for practically 4 months.  (Now, I'm pausing here for a sec to ask myself "Am I exaggerating here?  Were there really no sunny days from November until March?"  And when I think about it, I think I can remember a few.  But a few sunny days over a third of the entire year is not that much.  So despite the tiny bit of exaggeration, I stand by my statement.)  It was SO dark!  At it's worst, winter days had barely 7 hours of "light", if you can even call what made it through those pervasive, grey clouds light.

Aalborg's Christmas Market
One of my co-workers, a Dane, described it to me like this... In November, the short days start to get to you, but then Christmas cheer comes to get you through December which doesn't seem so bad until the party's over in January and you never want to get out of bed and February is the longest month of your life.  But, he said, if you make it to March, then you have hope.  I remarked to him that most of the world is not like this.  You can live places where you naturally get vitamin D...year-round!

But this is not any of those places.  This is Denmark.  And since we're living here not there, we've picked up on a few things to get us through the season.

For example, Christmas is really big here.  Without Thanksgiving to hold them off, Christmas festivities started in November, coinciding with the begin of the dark days.  Streets were decorated, a giant tree from Norway appeared in the center of town, little stands popped up selling gløgg and carmelized almonds, and there was some kind of Christmas party every weekend.  So for a while, you actually enjoy the darkness because it makes the Christmas lights and candles look even prettier.

It's not's cozy.
Which brings me to a key item to surviving the winter...candles.  Candles everywhere.  I've never seen a bigger candle selection in my life.  But they really work.  When you light some candles, your house is no longer a sad, dark place, it turns into a cozy place where you want to curl up with a blanket and a mug of something warm and good.

And with that, you're well on your way to a very hyggeligt evening.  Throw in some friends and some good conversations and make it last as long as possible...who needs to go outside anyway?  The Danish (/Scandinavian) concept of hygge proudly has no direct English translation but roughly means "cozy togetherness".  It's believed to be a factor in how places with consistently terrible winters still manage to be the "happiest places in the world" (according to the people who rank those kinds of things) and is a big enough deal that the Danish tourism website even has suggestions for how to experience it on your next trip to Denmark.

And we'll definitely be spending as much time in the sunshine as possible now that it's starting to show itself again.  David noticed during the summer that everyone seemed to be outside all the time.  Not really doing anything special outside, just sitting in the park reading a book or hanging out with friends.  He thought that people must be outside so much in the summer in order to make up for lost time in the winter.  I didn't want to believe him, but now, I know.  He was totally right.

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