Icelandic Language Blog

1 a.m. in Reykjavík. Posted by on Jul 2, 2012 in Icelandic culture

It happened last weekend. I was sitting at my computer by the window, minding my own business, and therefore didn’t notice anything out of ordinary until I looked up for one reason or another and saw that the clock on the wall above me thought it was well past midnight. I knew of the miðnætursól, or nætursól, (= midnight sun/night sun) and to be honest it wasn’t a new concept to me, but it did still manage to surprise me how light it was.

The midnight sun is simply a feature of the area within and near the heimskautbaugar, polar circles. As there are no inhabitants on the south side (with the exception of researchers) this largely means the Nordic countries, Russia, USA (Alaska), Canada and Greenland and that the farther you travel up north the longer the bright season is. To be considered midnight sun the sun has to stay up for 24h at least once per year. It’s opposite is the heimskautanótt, polar night, when the sun does not get up at all during 24h. The longest day of the year is called sumarsólstöður (summer solstice) and the shortest vetrarsólstöður (winter solstice) in Icelandic. Another name for sólstöður is sólhvörf.

In other words it was bright as a day outside even though the hours were definitely small! The garden was looking oddly sleepy, regardless. I stared at it for a while and then dressed up, or more accurately put on my warmest lopapeysa, woolen sweater, packed my camera and went out for a walk on the hills nearby.

Outside the air was cool and fresh, yet warmer than I had expected it to be. Perhaps it was the effect of the recent heatwave that had warmed up the ground so well that the night cold didn’t stand a chance against it. Heatwave here means an Icelandic one: a couple of days of sunshine and temperature bordering 20°C/68°F. It’s funny how well the body gets accustomed to a different climate, by the way. My homecountry has winters that are much colder and summers that are warmer, but I cannot really compare them to Iceland’s weather because they aren’t quite on the same scale. The air in Iceland is humid and it’s constantly windy, therefore the chill factor makes it feel a lot colder than it is at all seasons, ensuring that the Icelandic sweater is a well-loved item of clothing in almost every foreigner’s home: however, after one year of living here I ceased to feel the coldness. Now anything over 10°C/50°F feels warm enough to go outside without a coat on, make it 15°C/50°F and it’s T-shirts and summer dresses throughout the town.

The moon was almost full that night and it hung low in the sky, creating an illusion of it being much larger than it actually was. The sun was still up, and the two being in the sky together gave a strange quality to the scenery that was spreading out in front of me. Everything was a little bit bluer than it would usually be, not much but just enough to make even familiar sights look unreal. I don’t often use the word “magical” because to me it has a slightly tacky romcom kind of ring to it but I was very close to using it just now. I’m severely lacking in vocabulary to otherwise explain how my neighborhood looked like that night.

It was also unbelievably quiet. Now, Reykjavík is never as loud and busy as most other capital cities, but in the middle of the night the silence was nearly absolute, broken only by an occasional taxi that slowed down when they were about to pass me just in case I was on my way to a party and wanted a ride, and a young, tipsy couple making their way back home, leaning against each other and giggling breathlessly. But even these sounds seemed oddly far away, the silence of the night was perhaps louder than they were.

Times like these I wish I were a poet… it’s so difficult to describe exactly how Iceland turns into something resembling a different world on these brightly lit summer nights.

Er nætursólin grundir allar gyllir,
með gulli sínu læki barmafyllir,
og geymslu jarðar galdrar hafa rofið,
– þá get eg aldrei sofið.

(Á Jónsmessunótt, Guðmundur Frímann)

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!