How we embrace the darkness

Jamie MacDonald standing in front of a grey wall along a narrow walkway in the mid-ground of the photo, a stream of sunlight shining down on him from the right.
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Cooking with friends, art experiences, light therapy lamps and a touch of optimism. These are just some of the ways how foreigners who have moved to Helsinki prepare for the darkest time of the year.

“I always come up with a new autumn project for myself”

Italian-American catering entrepreneur Lorenzo Dotson-Smith follows his own rhythm rather than the clock in wintertime.

“I was tricked into this Finland thing! I arrived here Midsummer 2003, when the weather was nice and the archipelago wonderful. Then came winter. At that time, Helsinki still had decent winters, and I would have to dig out my car from under all the snow. When I lived in Trento, Italy, I snowboarded and was used to snowy mountains, but I was not used to seeing mountains of snow in the middle of the city. On the other hand, it was pretty nice to dress like on a ski vacation, and the snow brought light.

Lorenzo Dotson-Smith jogging on a footbridge at night, coming towards the camera.
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In the early years, I was busy completing my studies. But gradually I began to realise how early the dark winter arrived. I realised that I could not live by the time of day and that I had to listen to the rhythm of my body instead. In the mornings, I cheat my brain by turning on the light therapy lamp, and in the evenings, I go to bed earlier.

I cook a lot in my work, but I still enjoy it. In the winter, I make food that can be thrown into the oven and forgotten there for four hours. When I return home, I am greeted by the delicious aromas.

When summer starts coming to an end in August already, and Finns begin talking about schools resuming and packing away their sandals in the closet, I always come up with an autumn project for myself. It could be anything: a language course, a tango course, a small renovation – something measurable and concrete. In this way, I can learn something new every winter.

It is important to keep busy and do something all the time. I practice kiteboarding and teach it in both Helsinki and Hanko. I also go jogging.

The weather in November is sometimes so bad that it’s almost funny. But when there is snow, I enjoy the silence. A quiet two-hour run on those days is like seeing all the Moomins in the valley!”

Linda Toye standing behind a tree that has grown into a V shape, it's night and she's looking to her left.
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“I no longer complain about the darkness, I embrace it”

American artist Linda Toye prepares for winter with the right clothes and optimism.

“When I moved to Helsinki in 1986, it felt like I had moved to the dark side of the moon. There was nothing here, and there was not even internet yet. I am from Detroit and was used to Michigan winters, but it was not as dark there. My first winter here was the coldest I have ever experienced: minus 35 Celsius and lots of snow. When the temperature rose to 25 below zero, it felt like a heat wave.

When I moved to Finland, I was in love and did not think for a moment about the weather or dressing appropriately! At first, I was constantly cold. When I started spending time with my kids at the playground and shivering from the cold, other mothers advised me to buy a down coat. These days, I have several warm coats for the winter.

I begin preparing mentally for the dark months as early as September. I no longer complain about the darkness, I embrace it. It was fun and inspiring to learn downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and ice skating, even though I was laughed at. It does not matter if I am still slow and clumsy!

 

Winter is a busy time, as the Christmas sales season is important for me, but it is important not just to work but also to remain active in other ways. On weekends we try to see friends, and I make food a lot. November is also the month of my husband’s birthday, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving, so there are plenty of activities.

I have made our home very cosy, so it is nice to read books and drink wine. It also helps that I am an optimist. I look forward to the winter solstice and for the days to start getting longer.”

Standing against a grey wall, looking towards the camera, a shaft of light shining from the right.
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“New experiences bring light”

Canadian stand-up comedian Jamie MacDonald enjoys the arts and the outdoors, whatever the weather.

“My first winter in Helsinki 18 years ago was exciting, because everything was new. It was easy to stay active, because there was always something weird and interesting going on somewhere. While living in the Canadian city of London in southwestern Ontario, I got used to winter but not the dark. I gradually realised that I needed to find strategies to help me survive the winter. Darkness affects my mood, and it does not help if others around me are depressed.

My main strategy has always been to show up if someone invites me out to eat or throws a party. At this time of the year, it is good to see people and be social – in general, all new experiences bring a little light into the darkness. You can even play board games with a friend online or come up with other ways to get together remotely, if needed.

Another way of coping is by enjoying the arts. Each year I buy a museum card, which provides affordable access to museums. It feels good to visit a big, beautiful space, like at the Ateneum, and admire the art. I also love stand-up gigs. They do good, especially in winter. 

 

It is sometimes difficult to be energetic and enthusiastic in wintertime. You want to sleep late and stay up late, eat croissants and take a nap. It helps to go out, whatever the weather. If it snows, you can try winter sports. I am not very good at them, but at least I try.

I also spend a lot of time at home. I have LED lights at home that I can brighten and dim and change their shade. When it is dark outside, it is good to have a bright light at home in the mornings and a cosy soft light in the evenings.”

Roxana Crisólogo Correa sitting at a restaurant table eating noodle, smiling and laughing as she looks to the right. The restaurant booth where she's sitting is mostly clad in wood and bamboo.
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“I increasingly seek comfort among my friends”

Peruvian poet and cultural producer Roxana Crisólogo Correa gathers with friends around food.

“My first winter in Helsinki in 1996 was amazing. I saw snow for the first time, it was minus 25 Celsius, and everything felt exotic. It was beautiful when there was snow and light.

Nowadays, when there is usually not that much snow, winter feels more difficult. So I increasingly seek comfort among on my friends. I grew up in a family with six children, so the company of others has always been a rule in my life. In Helsinki, I have a large group of international friends, including Peruvian, Mexican, Iranian, Iraqi and Finnish friends.

I consider Helsinki to be an international city, and it is nice that Finnish society is more diverse today. When I moved to Helsinki, there were fewer different people, and it felt a little scary.

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Cooking with friends, art experiences, light therapy lamps and a touch of optimism. These are just some of the ways how foreigners who have moved to Helsinki prepare for the darkest time of the year.