The Contrasting Factor
It's the beginning of January. I am travelling in a morning tram heading towards a meeting that starts at 9 a.m. We're crossing through Helsinki city centre, all I see is traffic lights and neon signs through the tram's window. Otherwise it's pitch black. A woman opposite of me has closed her eyes. I'm tired too, constantly. No amount of sleep does the trick this time of the year. I'm curious if the woman is trying to nap or is she in fact mentally escaping to somewhere bright and warm.
From November until the end of January the lack of light is undeniably oppressing. Kaamos refers to the polar night, period without sun rising over the horizon, inside the Arctic Circle. It is also often used as a general term for the darkest time of the year. People talk about kaamos depression, feelings of hopelessness in the middle of the weeks, even months, long night.
There are some ways people try to fight back the depression. We curl up indoors, light up candles and drink warm beverages – trying to embrace the darkness. Danish people would probably call this "hygge". But there is only so much cosyness one can take. Human being as almost any other species strive in light. Using bright light luminary lamps is a common yet unnatural way to trick our bodies thinking the hard times are suddenly non-existent.
But then something happens. You wake up one morning immediately feeling different even though you cannot straight away put your finger on it. The traffic outside on the streets sounds different. Indoors, even when no lights are on, looks different, almost kind of magical. It's not bright per se, but it is something: the first snow has finally fallen, creating a contrast against the gloominess of the season.
As romantic and picturesque it is, snow has its downsides. It's harder to walk on the streets when it's icy and snowy: some recommend copying the walking technique of penguins, but in any way you choose to walk it is guaranteed to make your muscles ache the following morning. One day after a blizzard your car might be covered with snow making it impossible to figure out which plump is yours. The snow might create traffic chaoses, but all of this is somehow sympathetic: we're all facing the same situation of nature forces playing games with us.
Tiny snowflakes, ice crystals, each one claimed to be unique, reflect light so brightly even the darkest night is suddenly lighter. Proofed to double the amount of whatever sunlight we get, the huge white blanket makes things bearable again. Everything is softer, rounder. Kinder, even. As the snow covers the land, it feels almost as if it also covers all of our past bad decisions, feelings of sadness, depression and regret. The blank canvas makes room for the new season to come and gives us all a new beginning.