Polar Night

The dark season of the Arctic, the polar night, takes place in the heart of the winter when the sun doesn't rise at all above the horizon. The Finnish word for the season, kaamos, was adopted into the Finnish language reasonably late. It’s derived from the Sámi language, as the season is called skábma in North Sámi.

In present practice, the sun is considered to have set when its upper rim has descended below the horizon. Earlier, the sunrises and ­-sets were determined by the centre of the sun. In the northernmost Finland, the polar night lasts from late November to mid-January. In Inari, it begins in average on 3 December and ends on 11 January.

The dusk of the polar night lasts as long as the rising or setting sun is less than six degrees below the horizon. Though the sun no longer rises during the polar night, dusk prevails for several hours around noon. On the first and last few days of the dark period, the dusk lasts for almost six hours. Unlike many of us think, the southern border of the polar night area doesn’t run on the Arctic Circle, but a bit south of Sodankylä. Topography also affects the length of the dark season; for example in Äkäslompolo in Ylläs, the polar night lasts for almost as long as in Utsjoki, the northernmost municipality of Finland, because Äkäslompolo is surrounded by fells.

The dark season also offers interesting experiences. In the north, the polar night doesn’t mean total darkness, because the blazing aurora borealis in the sky and the shining snow on the ground bring light to the environment. On the other hand, as many as every third Finn suffers from the dark to some extent. With a milder effect, one can feel just more tired than usual, but, at worst, one can suffer from seasonal depression. Its symptoms have been known for long, and the phenomenon was called, for example, lappsjuka (“Lapp disease") in the past. The disease – seasonal affective disorder or SAD in English – has been a well-known and recognized disease for some thirty years.

According to research, the main symptoms of “the winter blues” include atypical depression symptoms such as excessive sleeping, increased appetite and weight gain. The condition has been considered a result of the small amount of light there is in winter. In general, December and January are experienced as more pleasant months than the darker October and November when there’s seldom snow on the ground. The snow increases considerably the amount of visible light. According to research, Sámi suffer from the winter depression less than the rest of the population.

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