Alexa

The key to getting through a Nordic winter? Lighten up!

The key to getting through a Nordic winter? Lighten up!

It doesn't take long for the strong lamps illuminating the white walls of the Iglo Light Cafe to have their desired effect on Carina Fabregat.
"Everything already feels so much easier here than it did outside," Fabregat says, gesturing toward the cold, dark streets hidden beyond the cafe's white window shades.
Like so many other Swedes, the 24-year-old is going to some length to escape the winter blues. That's what sets in when the sun disappears each day by 3 p.m., leaving Stockholm as dark and dreary as an Ingmar Bergman film.
"I always get really depressed in the winter," Fabregat said. "It's like we go into a collective coma. It really affects you when everyone becomes so introverted."
Excessive darkness, it turns out, should not be taken lightly.
A majority of Swedes feel gloomier in winter than in summer, and up to 3 percent have to seek professional treatment for so-called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or winter depression, said Baba Pendse, a doctor at the Malmo University Hospital in southern Sweden.
"You sleep a little longer, you're more tired and you get a stronger craving for sweets and candy," said Pendse, an expert on winter depressions.
To counter that, the Iglo cafe is offering so-called light therapy, an idea normally seen in Nordic hospitals treating patients with winter depression.
Dressed in white cloths draped over their regular clothing, Fabregat and other guests sit in an all-white room to bask in the intense indirect light reflected from strong lamps off the ceiling.
The cafe sells coffee, smoothies and an assortment of pastries, but it is the light therapy that attracts guests, said Martin Sylwan, who opened Iglo in 2004 after fighting off his own winter depression. Most guests come in the morning, he said, spending an hour in the light before heading off to work.
"This is a sort of surrogate for the sun," Sylwan said. "It gives your body the signal that it's actually day."
While the "sun" is artificial, the effect on the mind is real, Pendse said.
A lack of light affects the body's release of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate a person's sleep cycle, he said. As a result, the brain thinks it's night when it's day.
For those with only mild symptoms of the blues, there are other simple ways to chase off the gloom _ like taking a 30-minute walk outside when the sun actually appears.
"You can do a lot by just changing your habits," Pendse said. "You can also treat yourself to some niceties, like lighting a candle or eating some chocolate _ something to make you happy temporarily."
Here are some other ways the sun-thirsty Swedes fight off the darkness:
___
ANTI-BLUES CRUISE
Cruiseliner Birka Paradise, which makes daily excursions between Stockholm and the island of Aland in the Baltic Sea, offers another escape: A glass-covered "sun deck" with artificial sun lamps shining over beach chairs lined up by a pool.
Each week the ship carries about 8,500 passengers, who jump at the chance to shed their winter coats for a day at the beach.
"The sun deck is incredibly popular in the November and December darkness," Birka Chief Executive Wiveka Burgaz said. "Many Swedes wake up in the morning, open the blinds and say, 'Ah, it's so dark, let's go on a Birka cruise.'"
___
SAVED BY A SAINT
Every Dec. 13, Swedish classrooms, offices and city streets are lit up by young, beautiful women wearing white robes and a crown of candles in their hair.
More than a feast for the eye, the annual St. Lucia processions are one of Sweden's oldest attempts at spreading light in the heart of winter.
Like no other country, Sweden has fallen madly in love with the story of St. Lucia, a young Sicilian woman who became a Christian martyr in the early fourth century. Though she is relatively unknown in most of the world, Lucia is the only saint Swedes have honored with a special celebratory day. It could have something to do with her image as a light-bringer. Legend has it that Lucia carried food to prisoners in dark Sicilian dungeons, balancing candles on her head to shine the way.
___
SET FIRE TO A GOAT
It may not be therapeutic, but it does provide one heck of a bonfire: For 40 years, vandals in the city of Gavle have made it a tradition to burn down the giant straw Christmas goat erected by merchants on a central square. Since it was first put up in 1966, the 43-foot-tall goat has been torched 22 times _ last year by two culprits who witnesses said were dressed up as Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man.
This year, however, organizers are confident they have outsmarted the would-be arsons by dousing the goat _ a centuries-old Christmas symbol in Scandinavia _ in a flame-retardant normally used on airplanes. Oddsmaker PinnacleSports.com remains unconvinced, saying the goat is a 2-to-3 favorite to again light up the sky before the holidays are over.
___
THE COPACABANA COP-OUT
When all else fails, just leave. More than 1 million of Sweden's 9 million citizens escape the winter darkness every year by taking a vacation to a sunnier place. The most popular destination is the Canary Islands, followed by Thailand and South America, said Joakim Eriksson, a spokesman for the Ving travel group.
"More and more people are resorting to that tactic in the winter," Eriksson said. "And it's definitely climate-driven."


Updated : 2020-12-03 07:05 GMT+08:00