How just a year in Sweden changed my relationship with the sun, and turned Midsummer from a holiday into a religion.
Summers, really now?!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a winter person. I’d say anyone who’s grown up in Delhi must be. The summer in the Indian capital is relentless. Stretching over an easy six months (if not more) and touching a burning 47 degrees, the outdoors turns into an oven. Even in the dead of the night, it seems like the temperature knob is turned on max. There’s zero motivation to get out for anything that your life doesn’t depend on! And in all of this, the blazing sun seems to be entertaining itself; choosing if it fancies seeing you as a medium roast or roast well done.
Needless to say, the sight of sun outside the window is, well, hardly sunny. This, in short, was how I saw summer and the sun — until I moved to Sweden.
An uncommon Swedish welcome
It was early May – the onset of spring – when I landed in Gothenburg. The air was a crisp 16 degrees, and the sun shone right in my eyes. ‘It’s a rather warm welcome for Gothenburg’, a friend remarked. ‘Enjoy the sun while you can. It might last only this weekend!’
To my joy, the spring of 2016 was perfect — with six straight weeks of sun! There were clear blue skies dressed with scoops of vanilla. Grasses shone neon. Myriad blooms sprinkled reds, pinks and yellows to this canvas of blues-and-greens – and they were the deepest blues and greens I’d ever seen.
The daylight hours were deliciously long, stretching lazily past 10-11 pm; turning weekday evenings into leisurely lakeside walks, picnics by the sea or barbecue meals in green lawns over conversations and laughter as we watched the sun set. It was like gaining an extra day post work, every day! Sweden was trying to woo me, and I was sold.
Following the sun
While I waited for a permit to work, I made the most of my no-schedule mornings; lazing in bed until the point it would get too warm with the golden light flooding in. We’d actually go the entire day without needing to switch on a single light in the apartment! If I happened to get up in the middle of the night, I’d be fascinated by how it wasn’t really night – the sun was up at the window by some unearthly hour, like 2 am!
With nothing on agenda, every day post breakfast, I’d be on my feet, exploring the neighbourhood. Gosh, how beautiful the city was. I walked with an unmistakable skip in my step and a smile in my head. Following the sun around (there was a chill in the shade!); I’d occasionally settle in sunny spots to read, sketch and sometimes snooze on grassy patches by the canal.
What’s the weather like this afternoon?
As summer arrived, plans were made or unmade looking at the weather forecast — the fickle Swedish summer can turn from warm to windy to rainy to cloudy faster than you can boil an egg.
On a good day [read: sunny], the otherwise quiet city seemed run over by people! Outdoor cafes, sidewalks, markets, lake shores all abuzz – on weekday mornings too! – like burrowed creatures you didn’t even know existed had all at once swarmed out of their holes!
Then came Midsummer. And along with the rest, I merrily danced around the maypole in celebration of the longest day of the year – out of no particular feeling, but just the novelty of it.
The sun doesn’t visit much, anymore.
Gradually, as the months drawled into fall and then winter, days became shorter and the sun an infrequent visitor. Like it couldn’t be bothered with showing up anymore – rising at 10 am and bidding farewell by 3.30 pm on the good days. It felt so strange to have to switch on the lights during the day time – or at all.
Sometimes it shone only after two weeks or longer. And when it did, I headed outdoors faster than being chased by a dog!
Layers of clothing increased as I continued my walks in the city. I marvelled at how gorgeous it looked in each season — awash with the fiery reds-yellow-and-oranges in autumn; and stately with frozen waters and hauntingly-beautiful leafless trees shimmering silver in winter. Each change was love. The familiar skip in my step and smile in my head very much in place.
I had survived the notorious Nordic winter pretty well. ‘No…I don’t mind the long winter’, I replied with ease to the one question family and friends often asked me.
Surviving the Swedish winter. Or not.
Well, not until we took a trip to Andalucia (south of Spain) in February. We’d had a travel-frenzied year so it wasn’t a holiday we needed, but ‘the sun’, my husband pointed out. Or rather hypnotised me with a dangling thread saying, ‘Sun…think of the sun…’
We settled ourselves in the small white-washed village of Nerja and spent a whole ten days just sunning on the beaches. Sans any umbrellas for shade, letting the warmth enter and creep into every fibre of our beings; in an attempt to store the sunshine if we could.
Counting back, I realised it had been seven months(!) since I’d really got a chance to enjoy this warmth, and started contemplating life in Spain. Hiding and scowling in the sun in Delhi, I was now taking a holiday just to sun!
Glad Midsommar, allihopa!
Back in Sweden, spring came knocking by the end of March. After the long winter and ice melt, the sight of fresh sprigs of grass and flower buds sprouting felt god sent, and made my heart leap.
I couldn’t wait for the summer to set in, to dance around the maypole – only this time with fervent gratitude. It felt like I’d found my religion in Midsummer.
Written by Nidhi Dhingra
Hej hej! I’m a writer and illustrator originally from India, and now call both India and Sweden home. I have had a 2-year stint in Gothenburg — easily the best two years of my adult life. An explorer at heart, I travel often, armed with a curious mind, a sketchpad, notebook to scribble in and my taste buds – exploring bylanes, discovering treasures, gaining new friends and experiences.
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