Sunday, January 20, 2013

Engulfed in darkness at -26 Celsius (-15F)

I told myself I wouldn't complain about this winter season in Finland.  However, the winter which commenced in late November with a blizzard, isn't even half over and I am already counting the days till Spring.  We just experienced the two coolest days of the season and the coldest single day since I moved to Finland.  Last Saturday morning it reached -26 Celsius (-15 Fahrenheit).  That was officially the coolest day I have ever experienced anywhere.  As much as I love outdoor activities, I wasn't able to go for a walk or ski.  Some days are just meant to be indoors.  I think 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit qualifies as a day you just stay inside and keep warm.  :)

A rare glimpse of  the sun
I won't lie to you, Finnish winters are definitely challenging.  Many might think that the cold, freezing weather conditions are the worst part of the winter.  While the cold is not always comfortable, in my opinion the most difficult aspect is the darkness.  This time of year in Southern Finland it gets light around 9:30 in the morning and gets dark again starting around 4:00pm. That doesn't sound all that bad, and trust me it is much worse in Northern Finland.  However, what people who don't live here don't know is that most of those days, the sun almost never appears.  It slowly creeps up the horizon each morning and sets each evening, but it is normally obscured by clouds.  This time of year, it seems the cloud cover goes on for weeks and magically all of a sudden the clouds depart leaving blue skies that I once thought had disappeared forever.  And trust me, I celebrate those days when the sky reappears to cast its bright blue spell.

Secondly, my next biggest complaint about the winter is the slippery, icy sidewalks and streets.  It makes no difference, what type of shoes you wear, you will slip if you do not walk carefully.  You must slowly trudge along, kind of like a penguin.  It sometimes feels as you are walking on glass or an ice rink. Then, sometimes a small powdery snowfall will dump a light cover on top of the ice, making it even slicker than you thought was possible.

Lastly, I must complain about the whole driving experience.  First, you must always plan on starting your car 5-10 minutes before your leave.  While the engine is warming, you can scrape off the ice layer on your windshield and windows, and if necessary dig the snow out of the driveway.  There is nothing worse than pulling out of the driveway and spinning your tires in the deep snow cover and going no where.  Then you must try to drive safely to avoid sliding all over the road, even though you are armed with the latest high tech snow tires.  Knock on wood, I haven't actually had any accidents, but several times my car slid as I tried to stop at various stop lights, nearly avoiding hitting the car in front of me.  Sometimes there is just no control and not much the driver can do.

The challenging winters are an inevitable part of living in Finland.  But, as I blogged last winter, with a positive attitude and by using some of the techniques I posted, you can overcome the winter and go on with life.  Maybe I will re-read this section myself again for tips.  :)

A winter's smiles among the darkness.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A traditional Finnish New Year's Eve

Like most countries, Finland also celebrates on New Year's Eve.  Beyond the typical drinking and late night parties, Finland has a specific custom practiced on New Year's eve which tries to predict the following year.  This involves melting down a tin horseshoe with a specialized ladle over the stove.   One places the small tin horseshoe in the spoon and then lifts it over the hot stove top.  Once the tin is melted, it is then dropped into a cold bucket of water where it will change from liquid to solid again.  It is any one's guess what shape will transform once the tin turns solid again and it is safe to say there will never be two identical ones.  This is the second New Year's eve our family has spent in Finland and the second time we have practiced this tradition.  We have uncovered shapes from the melted down tins, such as leaves, dragons and even a lady.  However, many times the shape is just a inanimate blob of melted down tin.  Let's just hope these are not exactly accurate predictions of the upcoming year.  :)

Unlike in the USA where fireworks are illegal in most States, fireworks are legal between certain hours on New Year's eve in Finland.  Anyone over 18 can purchase and light fireworks in Finland.  Our family typically buys a few packages of fireworks to shoot off .  Starting at about 6pm, until just after midnight is a constant cacophony of various fireworks.  We started the children off with some sparklers, which were followed by some actual rockets and roman candles.  Like myself in the middle of my childhood years, my children love to watch colorful rockets exploding in the sky.  Luckily with all the snow covering the ground, shooting off the rockets was a safe and enjoyable experience.

As in most Holidays in Finland, store and services are usually closed or have very limited hours.  New Year's eve was a short day for most business and New Years Day everything (including food stores) are closed.   In the USA, New Years Eve is a normal day and you can still find some store and restaurants open on New Years Day. Here's to a happy and prosperous 2013!