Why the Polar Night?
Just like the midnight sun, the Polar Night is attributable to the inclination of the planet. In the same way that globes are often mounted at an angle on their stands, Earth itself is angled to one side. Winter comes around when the northern hemisphere is farthest from the sun, and the Polar regions in the north are that part of the planet that are angled farthest away. In other words, the rest of the planet blocks off the sun! Wikipedia has a more detailed description.
On the North Cape, the sun remains under the horizon for more than two months, while in Tromsø the phenomenon lasts for six weeks or so. In Lofoten, the dark period is short, just under four weeks. From Bodø and farther south, the sun does actually appear even in the deepest mid-winter, lighting up the winter landscape briefly around midday. At the other end of the scale is Svalbard, where the sun disappears completely for almost four months!
Not a complete blackout
Even though the sun remains below the horizon, Northern Norway is not blacked out completely. On clear days, we can see beautiful sunset colours in the south while the sky to the north is a deep midnight blue. On Svalbard, however, it is fully dark even at midday for several weeks around Christmas.
The blue hour
Around 1–2 o’clock in the afternoon, the residual light is reflected off the blue sea and the white snow, and the landscape is bathed in a glassy deep blue colour. This wonderful blue stays with us as long as the snow covers the ground and there is twilight. However, the blue hour occurs a few minutes later every day during winter, as the sun gains strenght.
Living in the Polar Night
The people of Northern Norway have lived with the dark months for the past 10,000 years or so. They go to work and to school as usual, and the range of leisure activities available in the evenings is broad and varied. Cafés, restaurants and nightspots fill up night after night with talkative, good-humoured people, and many entertaining festivals are held during this period. Outdoor activities are far from impossible. There are illuminated ski runs in even small resorts in Northern Norway, and some operators organise dog-sledding and scooter trips where participants wear head-lights.
Most people in Northern Norway feel that they need a little more sleep, and everyone tends to go to bed a little earlier. Otherwise, Northerners experience few problems in the dark months, and there is no noticeable increase in depression and alcohol abuse. In fact, we handle this period much better than people from southern climes would think – perhaps because we know that it doesn’t last all that long.
Can you visit Northern Norway in the dark months?
To visit Northern Norway during the dark months is to meet us Northerners at home. It is a great time for cultural events, festivals, good food, Christmas shopping and outdoor activities. Bring your sweetheart for a romantic long weekend in the far north – it is the perfect setting for spending quality time together by the light of flickering candles. The spawning cod swim in close to the shore, and your taste buds rejoice. Snow scooter trips, dog-sledding and sleigh rides are organised in many places in Northern Norway and on Svalbard, and this is a great time of year to see the Northern Lights.
Colourful winter destinations
A list of places that experience dark months. The dates indicate when the sun is below the horizon. In practice, however, the periods are often longer because mountains block the view to the south.
- Svolvær: 7 December–5 January
- Harstad: 2 December–10 January
- Bardufoss: 30 November–12 January
- Andenes: 29 November–13 January
- Tromsø: 27 November–15 January
- Alta: 25 November–17 January
- Vardø: 23 November–19 January
- Hammerfest: 22 November–20 January
- Berlevåg: 21 November–21 January
- North Cape: 20 November–22 January
- Longyearbyen: 26 October–16 February
- The North Pole: 25 September–18 March
Events during the dark months
Northerners are active and energetic even when the sun is gone. The following events are “well-kept secrets” where you can meet Northerners on their home turf!
- Pre-Christmas fairy-tale in Henningsvær: Christmas shopping far from the madding crowds. www.forjulseventyret.no
- The picturesque Sjøgata Street in Mosjøen offers some genuine Christmas atmosphere.
- Rundhaug Market: A wonderful market in Inner Troms. Christmas shopping and plenty of great food! www.rundhaugmartnan.no
- Nisse week-end at Berg: Everyone who believes in Santa (and above all, his little helpers) helps prepare Christmas at the farm cluster of Berg near Tromsø. www.nissehelg.no
- Polar Night Half Marathon: Street race on ice in Tromsø. Don’t forget your spikes! www.msm.no
- Tromsø International Film Festival: An unbroken period of cinema darkness and a great atmosphere! www.tiff.no
- Ilios Music Festival in Harstad: A discerning selection of music as the sun returns. www.ilios.no