Snapshots From a Land of Endless Night

New York Times readers who live near the Arctic Circle describe the surreal experience of polar darkness.
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New York Times readers who live near the Arctic Circle describe the surreal experience of polar darkness.CreditCredit...Weronika Murray.

For those who live just above the Arctic Circle, there is at least one day a year when the sun never pushes above the horizon. But there are many people who live even farther north who, after the winter solstice, don’t see the sun for weeks.

We asked readers who know arctic winters well to share their stories and photos of life in the polar darkness. Nearly 700 readers responded from areas all around the Arctic Circle.

Some moved to the region for fresh starts after rocky divorces or job losses. Others were born into families who had lived in the Arctic for generations. A few came to the Arctic for research, fell in love with the lifestyle — or with a reindeer herder — and never left.

These are their photos and stories, edited and condensed for clarity.

Credit...Oystein Lunde Ingvaldsen

I was born and raised in the arctic areas of Norway, and live at 69 degrees north. Except for two years studying abroad, I have lived here for all my 46 years.

You might think we stumble around in plain darkness for two months, but indirect light from under the horizon colors the sky.

The mountains are blue, the ocean is blue, the snow glows blue in the distance. Sometimes the sky is orange and yellow, and at night you can see stripes of green above you.

I had one of my first encounters with the northern lights during my studies up north in Bodo. The green lights rolled over the mountains and almost seemed like they were going to hit me in the head.

It’s difficult to describe the landscape during Kaamos (“dayless days”). On a clear night, the number of stars is beyond understanding. Sometimes when you stop in the forest, it is so quiet you think that there is something wrong with your hearing.

The sounds of the frost biting the corners of the house, ice singing, footsteps on the snow — these are all part of the experience.

Snow on the ground and in the trees reflects even the smallest glimmers of light; the full moon creates the most curious movie-set-like feel.

You are reminded of the magnificence of our universe: a full moon, bright enough to read by; satellites slowly making their way across the sky.

In Arkhangelsk, the two to three hours of dim light was bad enough, but I had to move to Tromso to see what complete darkness is — and what that darkness can do to one’s mental state.

Our home was located on the north side of a hill, so we received no direct sunlight for nearly 12 weeks each year. The sparkling lights of Christmas never seemed to burn so bright as in an Alaskan winter.

But in January, after the decorations are gone, the realization would set in that you were only halfway through. My mood would dive.

I highly recommend staging a Hawaiian luau in late January.

To battle the dark and cold, we indulge in coziness. The term “kos” is a Scandinavian universal. It means to enjoy the company of family and friends and to snuggle up with winter activities.

When I was a kid, we used to close the streetlights in the village just to get it darker and enjoy the stars and the night sky. A fire is more cozy when the darkness is complete and the wind is howling.

When you get back from work or school, it is amazing to take all your formal clothes off, heat the sauna and sweat. Then, put on some comfortable clothes, brew your favorite hot drink and get cozy on your sofa under a blankie.

There are many children born between August and November :)

The polar night is the perfect excuse to be a bit lazy. I call it my personal Arctic siesta. There is no need to stress about cleaning, no one will see the dust lying on your floor.

I live in a small village by the ocean with 300 inhabitants, mostly fishermen and old people. There are also three moose and two eagles who have joined us. I see lots of fish, birds and wildlife just outside my window. It’s a good substitute for the darkness, which does affect your mood.

I like to build a snow cave, fill it with candlelight and drink a bottle of red wine with my friends. We go outside and smell the snow.

We spend our lives trying to be productive and constantly trying to be better than we used to be, but when I come home to Kiruna, everything just stops. You can take it easy and slow down.

We work, eat, sleep, have fun — even host barbecue parties in minus 40 Celsius. Life doesn’t stop.

It is a great adventure to grow up in the North. Where else in the world are children allowed to run around playing outside in the dark? No one calls their kids in at sunset because there is none.

We have to watch out for polar bears in the schoolyard, so one teacher must carry a weapon to protect the children.

You still do a lot of things in the dark and my forehead carries the permanent imprint of my headlamp. I spend nearly the whole day outside chopping firewood for our house (we live off the grid), maintaining trails, plowing, going on walks with our dogs, snowshoeing, skiing, winter biking. It’s just great.

It’s tough, but our community doesn’t hibernate. We still have town events and the traffic never stops. We have a saying here in Norway: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

The world’s northernmost jazz festival occurs here during the 24-hour nights in early February. Community events ensure there is almost always something of interest happening every day.

Looking forward to the 15 minutes of actual sunlight in mid-January is better than looking forward to any birthday ever. It puts everything in perspective. And we must get our rest now because there are no nights in the summer.

When the sun comes back, I know. I know at the exact moment. Everything stops and I marvel at the way it changes the whole world.

In February we can stand in the first rays of direct sun. After all those months, it’s like a firework. Your soul explodes in a rush of happiness and a longing for more, more, more. You win the Oscar for having survived.

My advice is simple: Do not spend too much time thinking about the polar nights.

Nancy Wartik contributed reporting.

The Reader Center is one way we in the newsroom are trying to connect with you, by highlighting your perspectives and experiences and offering insight into how we work.

A note to readers who are not subscribers: This article from the Reader Center does not count toward your monthly free article limit.

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