The hours of darkness

Thinking about the shortening days as we approach Winter Solstice, I decided out of curiosity to look up how short the days are way up north in Estonia.

In Tallinn this morning, December 12, the sun came up at 9:09 a.m., and set at 3:30 p.m. — it’s already night there. That means they only received 6 hours and 11 minutes of daylight. It’s difficult to imagine what that’s like.

And they’re not at the shortest day yet, either. The sun will come up later and later, reaching its latest rising of 9:19 a.m. and continuing to rise at that time until January 1.

The earliest sunset will be at 3:19 p.m., from December 14 through 18.

And the shortest day, a day with merely 6 hours and 2 minutes of sun (if they should be so lucky — it’s generally cloudy at this time of year, if not actively raining or snowing) will be December 22, the day of the Solstice.

I don’t know if I could take that much darkness. I seem to be solar powered, energetic when it’s sunny and slothful on gray days. I definitely have seasonal depression, and from October through February must use a high-intensity lamp and take vitamin D in order to function normally.  How did my ancestors manage with so much more darkness on winter nights?

My cousin’s husband sensibly pointed out that Estonia receives the same total amount of daylight and night per year that every other place on Planet Earth receives, only it is arranged differently.

And it’s true. I’ve been in Estonia twice near the Summer Solstice, when it never fully becomes dark. They experience 18 hours and 39 minutes of light between sunrise and sunset.

It’s amazing watching the oft-considered-gloomy Estonians perk up as they bathe in all that sunshine. Elation is the best word to describe it.

Naturally the biggest holiday in Estonia is Midsummer, starting in the evening on June 23 into the following day. People build bonfires and light them, sing traditional Midsummer songs, dance, eat and drink all night.

In the old agrarian days they drove cattle through the bonfire smoke, believing it would protect the herds from illness or injury.

But for now, darkness reigns. The wings of night enfold us, help us turn inward, dream.




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