"What? You live on a Pacific island! WTF you talking about Tats?"
The 45th parallel (or whatever it's called) runs through New Zealand. That means we're half way between the equator and the pole. So in practice, we're half way between the same-same seasons of the equatorial countries and the endless day/endless night of the polar regions. In summer, our days stretch from about 5:30am through till 9:30pm (earlier/later the further south you go). In winter, it's just starting to get daylight at 7:30am when I leave for work and it's getting dark by 5pm when I get home.
What this means is that it feels as though we are living our lives in darkness, even though we don't have the full dark of the Nordic countries. Essentially, all the time spent outside of work is night-time. I don't get to mow the lawn after work, getting washing dry during the week is impossible, and I can't work on my art projects without intense artificial light.
So yeah, darkness encroaches.
And it gets me down, because I'm a creature of the light. I am active when the sun's up, and all this darkness in my life saps my energy and motivation - the month around the winter solstice, everything seems hard as my life turns into an endless round of work-dark-work-dark.
"Well, you'd never cope in countries where it's dark all the time in winter then, would you?"
Someone said that to me yesterday, in reference to my interest in spending time living in Finland.
They might be right. But the thing is, I'm pretty sure that in countries that have endless night, and snow, and bitter cold, winter is acknowledged. I may be wrong, I may be romanticising this, but my learning of Finnish language is hinting at a culture in which winter is a special season, one that requires different clothing and is marked by a different style of living, new words and new ways of relating to each other. "Would you like to come to my place to warm up?" or "Whose turn is it to light the sauna?" are not phrases you hear in New Zealand vocabulary.
In Svalbard, the northernmost islands of Norway, the wintertime is when the most festivals are held - festivals of light, music, art. I'm only guessing, but it seems to me that in a land where night is endless and cold, a regular festival or celebration is a good way of alleviating the sameness, of making winter more interesting and exciting, of giving people things to look forward to.
In New Zealand, we don't really acknowledge winter. Why should we? We're a Pacific island! We don't get snow, and on a nice day in winter it's still pretty and almost-warm.
But at the latitude 40s, our daylight hours don't really match our climate. The days don't stop happening, they just get short enough so it feels like they aren't happening, and we all try to pretend it doesn't affect us because we don't have any real reason to acknowledge it - no deep banks of snow, no blistering cold, just grey, short days spent looking out an office window from the inside, where daylight-frequency bulbs are prohibitively expensive and SAD is for the weak.
So we staunch it out, because we are kiwis. We're hardcore, implacable, stoic. We don't have a real winter, not compared to those other people. So we shouldn't complain, we should just tuck our chin into our collar and keep acting like it doesn't get to us.
It gets to me. I don't know if it's because of my northern ancestry or because I'm a wuss or some other reason, but this time of year I just want to hibernate, sit in my cave with my warm fire and my closest people, and make things. I don't want to go out into the darkness and the yuck every morning and pretend that I'm the same as I am in summer, because I'm not. I'm sleepy and slow and I am not getting enough sun, and it affects me.
But, only another month to go before there's enough daylight in the morning and at night so I'll stop feeling like this. It doesn't take much. So I say, roll on the stink July sleetstorms, it's a whole lot better than being awake when I should be asleep.