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Actually, spring has supposedly come to Finland, since the bears awoke from their winter sleep.
However, you are not gonna notice any difference for many more weeks. Snow is still covering everything, the days are short and the sun shining is a very rare occasion. Winter and Finland are almost synonymous. Winter is a long, dark time that lasts from November to March, and often even April. There is a whole mythology of Finnish winter, and much of the country’s identity is connected to winter, how to survive it and its beauties.

IMG_6724First of all, winter is a state of mind. It doesn’t means only children wrapped up in snowsuits, darkness and few hours of dull greyness, vitamin c and d supplements, icy roads, snow storms that can turn everything white in just a few hours, ice skating on the frozen lake and silence.

IMG_6725Winter is slow. It’s so long it has to become part of your consciousness, to be integrated in your perception. Winter is not wanting to get out of the bed because everything is still dark outside, is going out only at lunch because those are the few hours of sunlight, is eating lots of chocolate and pulla (delicious Finnish bun), is taking a walk in -20° and wonder at the beauty of the frozen trees and worrying you have gone too far from the house and you are going to freeze before getting back. Winter is encountering winter lights decorating houses, spotting a dog that looks like a wolf being taken out, candles trembling, crystallized windows, getting rid of all the outdoor layers in the entrance and be welcomed by warmth, lost gloves or hats in every corner, people rushing home to drive the cold winter away (from their bodies? from their hearts?)IMG_6690Winter is called Talvi in Finnish, and since Finnish language is beautiful and crazy, in winter is talvella. Talvella I check the weather report everyday, and wear studs on my soles to avoid slipping on the ice. I eat too much chocolate and sleep a lot. I read comic books on Saturday afternoon after visiting the library. I wear a scarf, and gloves and woolen socks. I sometimes wonder at the beauty of Finnish winter and sometimes curse the lack of sun, the omnipresence of snow and ice everywhere, and how snow turns into mud and gets dirty far too quickly. IMG_6700 And Christmas (Joulu) is happy food, and happy thoughts, and a Christmas market with knives and Lapland chips and caramelized apples. IMG_6735

IMG_6720I am not new to winter, but this is much longer than what I have experienced before, even in Denmark. It makes you patient, it makes old people chatty at the bus stop, it makes children and teenagers unfazed by the outside temperature. While I would probably die if I ever dared to do so, many young people go around without scarves, with light jackets and high heels and I admire their carefree easiness around winter. I don’t have that, and maybe I never will. I don’t even like winter sports, so what’s left of winter to enjoy for me is its naked, intense beauty. And, of course, sauna. The remedy of all evils, an old friend you can always count on. IMG_6722I love winter. Talvi may be a little too long and extreme for me, but I think of him as a old bear who may be grumpy but has a lot to teach. You can cuddle next to him in his den, and get warm and wait for spring. Outside the world hasn’t stopped but it is going much slower than usual.

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Gennady Spirin

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