Hours of daylight in Finland and Lapland during the year

This past November has been one of the gloomiest in Finland. Besides the very few hours of daylight that there are at this time of the year, there were only 12 hours of direct sunlight during the first 26 days of November in Helsinki (40 hours is the usual). In Lapland that number was up to 23 hours, which is still very few for those of us accustomed to lots of sunlight.

Hours of daylight: Finland is a country of extremes in that regard

A quarter of Finland’s surface – Lapland – is over the Arctic Polar Circle. Over that imaginary line, at least a day per year the sun doesn’t set and at least a day per year the sun doesn’t rise. In rest of Finland, south of that line, it is not that extreme, but there are pretty steep changes in the hours of daylight during the different months and seasons as well.

Hours of daylight in summer
Finland has moments with a lot of daylight and sunlight: this is a photo of the midnight sun. Source (CC: by).

So, if we are planning our trip to Finland, either for tourism and discovery, or to visit someone we care for, it is good to know what we are going to find in terms of how long the daytime lasts.

Daylight hours in Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Sodankylä (Lapland)

In this table from the Finnish Meteorological Institute we can see how many daylight hours there are in Helsinki (and by extension in other places in the South of Finland), in Jyväskylä (Central Finland) and in Sodankylä (in the Finnish North – the place that was the National Center for Northern Light observation of Finland).

Hours of Daylight in Lapland, Helsinki and Jyväskylä
Exact times where the sun rises and sets in different locations across Finland. Also the length of day. Source.

We can also see that data in a more visual form in this graph. I made it with the data from the Meteorological Institute. Another way to see it visually too is to see this fantastic video in time lapse comparing a summer day and a winter day in Helsinki, one next to the other.

Length of Day in Helsinki, Lapland and Central Finland

We can see both in the graphic and the data that Sodankylä in Lapland is the place that has the most extreme changes. It is a place where we can see the Midnight Sun in the summer and the Kaamos (the polar night) during winter.

The line for Jyväskylä, 270km North of Helsinki, and the captital’s one are not as steep as the Lapland one, and are actually quite close to each other. But even like that, we have long summer days and short winter nights compared to the rest of Europe.

Hours of daylight, yes, but also a lot of clouds

And we finish today’s post as we started it. Besides knowing the daylight hours and the length of day that we can find in different parts of Finland, we have to take another factor into account: the clouds.

This past November was unusually cloudy, but the usual level of cloudiness is actually quite high too, as we mentioned. In comparison with the countries of Southern Europe, you get as many hours of sunlight in two days as Helsinki and other Finnish places might have in a month.

That can be pretty hard for those who are accustomed to lots of sunlight, even in winter. It is one of the things I miss the most while living abroad. Nature has a way of bringing balance to Finland by making natural wonders such as summer days with white nights and the Midnight Sun.

If you live in Finland, how do you manage the changes in the hours of daylight? And the cloudy winters?

Kaamos: the Polar Night in Finland

24 hours of darkness. Something that is impossible to imagine for most people in the world. But it happens every year in Finland, and people that go traveling to Finland during the winter will experience it. I never really had to face Kaamos, the Polar Night of Finland, but I did have to face lots of nighttime per day, which was very unusual for me.

Plants under the Polar Night
Finnish flora during the moment with most light of the Kaamos. Source (CC: by).

Polar Night: the longest night

The weeks around the winter solstice, 21st of December, are objectively the darkest time of the year. The days – the time with daylight – are short. Furthermore, before Christmas time, it is quite possible that the snow didn’t fall yet: The streets don’t reflect the light, which makes everything seem even darker.

I remember my first days with only a few hour of daylight in Finland, when I used to count the hours of light per day. I woke up and it was dark. I took my bike to go to the center and the sun started to rise slowly. Later on, at 15h or so, it was night again. 5 hours of daylight per day in the Joensuu winter.

Anyway, we were lucky: We were in Central Finland and, being Spanish as I am, 24 hours of nighttime would have been too much. Pretty nice as an experience of a couple of days, but bad to live it like that for a whole winter or more.

But that’s business as usual in the North of Finland: They have the Polar Night and the Kaamos if they live above the Arctic Circle line. And a lot of nighttime if they live below.

Kaamos in Finland
The Kaamos – the Polar Night – seen from a Finnish cottage (a mökki). Source (CC: by).

The Kaamos

The Kaamos, also known as the Polar Night, is the time of the year where there are at least 24 consecutive hours of darkness. Kaamos can be long in the North of Finland (up to two months), and brief – just a day – when staying on the Arctic Circle line.

Why is the Arctic Circle so important for the duration of the Kaamos? Because this imaginary line marks the place where the sun won’t rise at least one day a year, and won’t set at least for one day a year. In summer this phenomena is called Midnight Sun (24 consecutive hours seeing the sun), and the Polar Night is just its opposite.

Kaamos in the North of Finlandia
A Finnish road during the Kaamos time of the year. Source (CC: by-sa).

But the fact that it is dark for at least 24 hours doesn’t mean that the sky is always black. Around noon there is a twilight – the clarity in the sky before the sun rises – with the particularity that the sun never actually rises. In this moment a magical shade of blue takes over, and – especially if everything is covered in snow – everything seems to glow with a blue color. A brief, true blue world.

Also, during the Kaamos and the cold weather, in the North of Finland you get to see a lot of Northern Lights. It truly is a great time to visit Finland.

Finnish village during the Polar Night time
This Finnish village doesn’t see more clarity than this during the Polar Nights of the winter. Source (CC: by).

Have you been so lucky to see the Polar Night? What did you feel during the brief moment of clarity of the Kaamos?

Gordon Ramsay in Lapland: eating reindeer meat

We already talked about chef Gordon Ramsay trying Finnish food for the first time. I already said in that post that they should have given him some reindeer meat to try. Dishes with this kind of meat have always been my favorites of the Finnish cuisine.

A dish made with reindeer meat
A reindeer dish. It looks amazing. Source (CC: by)

And that’s what they have done this time: Ramsay went to Lapland, the North of Finland (to the Finnish city of Ivalo, to be exact) to try some reindeer meat. All of it framed by the Christmas time in Finland. ThisisFINLAND’s twitter account shared this happy link during this time of the year.

Gordon Ramsay visits Lapland

When I first watched this video of Gordon Ramsay tasting reindeer meat, and heard it starting with the first notes of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” from Tom Waits (his song “Big in Japan” inspired the title of this blog), I knew it was going to be a great video.

Ramsay said that he heard that reindeer meat tastes like the best beef, and goes to Lapland to prove this theory: You can see him taste it and cook it in different ways.

Gordon Ramsay
Chef Ramsay. I am a huge fan of his Master Chef USA. Source (CC: by)

Gordon Ramsay cooks and tastes reindeer meat: the video

This video is short but intense: about 15 minutes. Under it I wrote some highlights, by the minute, so you can conveniently skip to the part that interests you most.

The video is part of the “The F word” series. F of “food“, I presume, but another word that Gordon says a lot also starts with “F”. In some segments of this show he prepares some traditional dish for a celebration. This is the cause for his visit to Lapland: it’s Christmas time.

1.00 – Ramsay shows us the menu of a restaurant in Ivalo, a place where there are less cows than reindeer, and less people than reindeer too. He tastes the reindeer meat in different ways: smoked, sautéd and as a steak. He definitely likes this delicacy of Lapland.

2:35 – Ramsay meets with a Sami (the indigenous people from Lapland) that breed and hunt reindeer.

5:35 – Ramsay and the father of the family talk about whether it is better to hunt reindeer or take them to the slaughterhouse. Ramsay starts to get ready to hunt a reindeer.

7:10 – The last considerations and pulling the trigger.

8:20 – They skin the reindeer and show the reindeer meat.

9:40 – Ramsay has everything ready to cook the reindeer meat. He is going to prepare a stew with it. He uses local ingredients including lakka (cloudberry): a celebrated berry indigenous to Lapland in the north of Finland. He uses snow instead of water to add to the stew (I wouldn’t do that: it may contain – let’s say – some organic matter).

12.25 – Ramsay makes reindeer carpaccio from the meat and also prepares some glögi.

13:45 – The Sami family try the dishes of chef Ramsay and give their approval (they eat reindeer meat about 6 times a week, but Ramsay prepares it in a different way to how they are used to). As a token of thanks, they give Ramsay some dried reindeer penis meat – or that is how it seems, until the surprise is revealed.

The video ends, and it seems to me to be a great feature about cooking and eating reindeer meat in Finland and Lapland. Maybe it is a dish to consider when you prepare your Christmas dinner or your new year’s dinner.

Have you tried reindeer meat? Would you after watching the video?

Santa Claus sights and attractions in Lapland

Christmas in Finland is more than a tradition: Since it is the place where Santa Claus lives, Finnish people take Christmas pretty seriously. Today we talk about three sights and attractions that feature Santa Claus in Lapland, the north of Finland. All of these sights can be found in the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Santa Claus Village

The first attraction is situated 8 kilometers north-east of Rovaniemi, and close to the airport. It is the Santa Claus Village (official website). You can get there from the city center as well, taking the bus number 8 from the train station.

Outside Santa Claus village in Lapland
Santa Claus Village, seen from outside. Source (CC: by).

It is open the whole year and offers different attractions:

  • Visit the Arctic Circle line. A line on the ground marks this geographic line of the Earth. Above this line, there is at least a night a year that lasts 24 hours, and a day per year where the sun doesn’t set for 24 hours.
  • The Santa Claus post office in Finland: a shop with Christmas products and Christmas cards. You can send your mail from there with a stamp of Santa Claus, and you can specify the day that you want the mail to arrive (for instance: next Christmas), independently from the day you were there.
  • Santa Claus’ office in Finland, where he receives guests and chats with them in different languages, since he speaks many languages (English, of course, included). You can take a picture with him and take it with you as a great memory.
  • Other attractions: in the village you can find several shops, restaurants, and even “Miss Roosevelt’s cabin“, since the wife of the former president of the USA Franklin Roosevelt was the first tourist to the region of Lapland. There is also a Christmas exhibit that shows how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world, with movies and objects.

The line of the Arctic Circle
The line of the Polar Arctic Circle. Source (by-sa).

Joulukka: Fairytale of Christmas

Joulukka (official page) is located in the middle of a forest 16km from Rovaniemi. It is said to be one of Santa’s best kept secrets in Finland. Out of the three places where you can see Santa Claus sights and attractions in Lapland, this is the newest and the one with the highest prices. Up to now the elfs – Tonttu in Finnish language – made sure that nobody was able to find it, because it’s the place where the Command Center of Santa is located: The place where he carefully plans his trip on December 24th.

Another sight and attraction of Santa Claus in Lapland: Joulukka

In this Santa Claus attraction in Rovaniemi you can do different activities depending on the program you choose. Each of these programs are suitable for different group sizes and focus on a subset of the whole Joulukka. For instance, some of these programs – that last between 1 and 4 hours and that almost all end up with some traditional meal in Joulukka – are:

  • Joulukka Christmas Special: A route with the elfs through the forest, where you can find different magic animals and creatures.
  • Santa Claus Safari “Dream of Joulukka”, where you can learn how to make Christmas decorations and gingerbread cookies. At the end of the activity you’ll get a certification from the Santa Claus school.
  • Exclusive Private Meeting with Santa Claus, where you can find out how elfs live. They will guide you through the forest to the Santa Command Center where he monitors how good people have been, and you can meet him.

The Santa Park

The Santa Park (official page) is another popular attraction about Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. The park is designed to look like his cave residence. The visitors of the Santa Park descend through an impressive portal that leads them through a cave into the mountain.

Santa Park's entrance
The entrance to the Santa Park. Source (CC: by-sa).

Going through Santa's cave
Getting inside the cave. Anything to meet Santa Claus in his Lapland home! Source (CC: by-sa).

What you can find inside this sight of Santa Claus in Finland is:

  • The Elf Show, the Elf School and the Elf Workshop: different workshops to learn about the life of the Tonttu, the elf helpers of Santa. You, as an apprentice elf of any age, will learn how to make Christmas decorations, behave like a good elf, or simply relax watching their show.
  • Santa’s Workshop: We should not forget to pause a moment to say hello to Santa Claus and personally hand him our list of wishes.
  • The Ice Bar and the Ice Gallery: Like many other ice bars in the world (many of them inside ice hotels in Finland), this is a place to rest and enjoy some pretty cold drinks. You can also meet the Ice Princess and enjoy all the ice sculptures that are on display.
  • The Gingerbread Kitchen: The kids can decorate gingerbread cookies made by Miss Noel, and in the meantime the parents can have a glass of glögi, the Finnish Christmas drink.
  • The Sleigh Attraction: Riding a sleigh, you go through the four seasons of Finland, and you also visit the elf workshop, where you’ll see them working because everything has to be ready for December 24th.
  • The post office: Similar to the one in Santa Claus Village, you can also send your best wishes from this office, and leave your wish list to Santa.

Santa Park is located 9km north of Rovaniemi, and you get to it with the bus number 8 too (this bus is known as Santa’s Express). The Santa Park was named “Best Adventure Destination in Finland” in 2007 and 2008.

Sending your letter to Santa Claus

We did a post about sending a letter to Santa Claus, with the right address and some tips, but it is always good to remember the address: Santa Claus, 96930 Arctic Circle, Finland.

Post office at  Santa Park
The official post office of the Santa Park. Source (CC: by-sa).

Have you visited some of these sights and attractions of Santa Claus in Lapland, the north of Finland? What did you think of them?

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