Finnish winter surprises

HThe Finnish way to survive the gloomy days of winter is to increase the consumption of coffee, but are there other ways to overcome the winter blues?

Gretchen Repasky“Avoid sitting inside waiting for summer. It will be a long time coming!” says Gretchen Repasky, employed at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland FIMM.

Originally from Alabama, USA, Repasky was used to winter temperatures before moving to Finland, but her first winter in Finland in 2010 still proved a memorable experience. It was the coldest winter in ages, with record amounts of snow.

“The most surprising thing to me was the excitement shown by most people to the snowy winter and the numbers of people outside all winter long. The snow provided a great environment for fun outdoor play,” Repasky reminisces.

paolo ribaldini isoPaolo Ribaldini, PhD student in musicology at the University of Helsinki and pop/jazz at the Metropolia UAS, first arrived to Finland two years ago from the city of Mantova in northern Italy. Ribaldini says that the winter in his home country is very different from the Finnish one.

“It’s cold, and it’s very humid, but there’s nothing comparable to the darkness I’ve experienced in Finland.”

He noticed the effect of darkness during his first winter in Finland:

“I felt really depressed in 2012, also because I was in a completely new environment, unaware of most things surrounding me, without many friends and a bit worried about many matters. The darkness indeed enhanced the bad feelings.”

The winter is coming…what can you do?

There are several things you can do to overcome the cold and darkness. As the sunlight is limited, you should pay attention that you get enough vitamin D. The right amount of vitamin D is one of the favorite debate subjects in Finland during winter.

In addition to vitamins, Ribaldini emphasizes the importance of social contacts.

“Take a lot of vitamin D, hang out with friends, find things to do, go to parties, try to have fun. And when you’ve got the blues, pick up the phone and arrange a meeting with a friend.”

One of the cures for the lack of sunlight there are alternatives such as bright light and wake up lamps.

How to avoid frostbites

According to a Finnish phrase, there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

“I think the best thing is wearing clothes in layers, it’s better to have a bit larger clothes, where the air warmed up by the body’s heat can circulate and keep you sheltered”, advises Ribaldini.

“One important thing I’ve learnt is that your winter boots should be a bit roomier than your other footwear so that you can wear them with a pair of thick woolly socks”, Repasky continues.

So it is possible to survive the winter, and the possible winter blues. For Ribaldini the second winter he spent in Helsinki went much better than the first.

“In 2013 it wasn’t bad at all: I was taking more vitamin D and had friends and lots of things going on between the two universities, so I was busy and didn’t notice winter so much.”

For Repasky, one of the highlights of her first winter in Finland was a trip to the Suomenlinna sea fortress.

“Just the ferry ride breaking through the ice to the island was interesting. Then, the stark stillness of the island was beautiful,” Repasky muses.

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Text: Tiina Palomäki & Tiiu Särkijärvi
Photos: Veikko Somerpuro, Ari Aalto and Paolo Ribaldini