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Sunday, June 16, 2024

‘Think Norwegian’ this Corona winter

Mornings have become dark, the days are noticeably much shorter and snow started falling even in Southern Norway on Tuesday. Winter is coming, and amid all the usual reports of accidents tied to the first snow comes some news: Norwegians’ centuries-long traditions for dealing with the dark and cold time of the year may make them best-suited to tackle the long Corona winter ahead.

This was the scene Tuesday morning on the usually busy E6 highway at Vensgangen, south of Hamar. Snow fell for the first time as autumn turned to winter over much of Southern Norway, leading to the usual rash of accidents involving vehicles not yet equipped with winter tires. Police seized the driver’s licenses of motorists not prepared for driving conditions. PHOTO: Statens vegvesen

They’re likely to simply light some candles, or the fireplace for those who have them. They’ll make special meals and bake some cakes or other goodies. They’ll read lots of books but also bundle up, strap a headlight around their heads and march into the cold fresh air, armed with coffee in a thermos, sausages for grilling on a campfire and reflective devices on their clothing to keep them visible in the dark.

That’s all standard stuff for Norwegians as autumn turns into winter and darker days set in. As the locals are apt to say, in a rhyme that doesn’t translate well, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” That means there’s no excuse for staying indoors either, although that can be koselig (cozy), too. It’s just all part of how people living in the far north strive to keep spirits light as the days get dark.

While such seasonal routines are nothing out of the ordinary in Norway, and even considered necessary for survival, newspaper Aftenposten reported this week on how they sparked the curiosity of an American researcher at Stanford University in California. Kari Leibowitz, a doctoral candidate in psychology, ended up spending a year in Northern Norway on a Fulbright scholarship studying how Norwegians tackle winter and its darkness.

There’s not much new in her revelations and recommendations for Norwegians themselves, but Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, seemed flattered by her advice as reported by British newspaper The Guardian: “Think like a Norwegian” when faced with the winter ahead, urged Leibowitz. It may help people elsewhere get through the upcoming winter that’s likely to be tougher than usual because of Corona restrictions.

Praising the ‘winter mindset’
Leibowitz was clearly impressed by what she called the Norwegians’ “winter mindset.” While some do suffer winter depression and use special indoor lighting to cope, most embrace all the things that make the season special, from winter sports to special food and drink, cultural events and socializing. Norwegians may not be able to fly south to warmer climes this winter like many usually do, but even Corona restrictions won’t completely ban small dinner parties with close family or friends. Instead of eight people around the table, four or even six can still allow for staying a meter apart. So can outdoor activities like skiing or skating or simply walking on lighted trails.

“I think that when you live so far north, you don’t have any choice but to embrace the winter,” Leibowitz told Aftenposten. “And it’s easier when those around you do the same.”

Winter days in the northern city of Tromsø aren’t always dark, like here on a January afternoon when a blue light fell over the Arctic Cathedral and the mountain known as Tromsdalstinde in the background. PHOTO: Møst

She admitted she had never liked winter herself, so perhaps her field work in and around Norway’s northern city of Tromsø was appropriately demanding. According to Aftenposten, she ended up enjoying going outdoors wearing headlights for treks with friends in the dark.

She could also conclude what Norwegians have known all along: the more people view winter as a fine opportunity to enjoy chilly delights, the better their mental health. Leibowitz also concluded that a positive approach to winter also increased along with how many degrees north people are.

As has reported before, many Norwegians aren’t calling winter mørketiden (the dark time) any longer, but rather fargetiden (the colourful time), because of the season’s long sunrises and sunsets and glimpses of the Northern Lights. Real joy can be found in both the dark and the light.

Practising ‘kos’
Leibowitz has also recommended practising a bit of the Scandinavian kos (coziness) that’s already attracted international attention both summer and winter. Norwegians, known for being almost obsessed with home decorating, have been stressing kos even more than usual since Corona restrictions first set in last March. They’ve eagerly engaged not only in new spurts of home remodelling but also in buying records amounts of eggs, flour, sugar, milk and cream for baking. Store shelves were emptied of baking power last spring and Norwegian grocery stores have never rung up such high sales, after locals needed to make meals at home when restaurants closed and they could no longer cross the border to shop in cheaper Sweden.

Restaurants and bars reopened months ago in Norway, but local outbreaks of the Corona virus have led to some new regional restrictions. The upcoming julebord (Christmas party) season isn’t expected to be the same as usual, but it likely will remain possible to enjoy some seasonal socializing, at an appropriate meter’s distance.

Line Marie Warholm, a psychologist and columnist for Aftenposten, agrees with Leibowitz that Norwegians are well-equipped to face the Corona winter ahead. “One thing is that there aren’t so many of us in Norway, and we have lots of space around us,” Warholm told Aftenposten. “It’s also natural for us to spend time in the great outdoors. We’re used to going out, also when it’s cold. We meet, we go skiing, we grill sausages, and we can do that even though we may not be together as much indoors this winter.” Berglund



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