How to handle the long winter in Sweden
…by someone who sees one cm of snow once every three years?
Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m from the north-western part of France where the climate is quite different from the Swedish one, especially the one from the north but lucky me I’m living in the southern part of Sweden in the city of Växjö now.
What you expect in winter in Sweden; you expect snow every day and very very cold temperature, at least that is what I expected. And well, it was a surprise for me when I asked Swedish people in September, excited about the idea, if there is a lot of snow during the winter, and their answer was: no, it doesn’t snow here. I can tell you that I was disappointed.
So, November came, I was ready to NOT have my white winter. But there it comes, the 30th of November, what was supposed to be a day like the other became much better because of this climate phenomenon called: snow. It was magical, everything was white and dreamy, a real winter fairytale.
The next day it became even more intensive, there were 20 centimetres of snow everywhere. And for two weeks, white was the primary colour of the landscape. As I expected the temperatures were low. Biking became a real experience with this temperature, usually, it was -8°C till -12°C one day.
What also means winter for me, is shorter days. And so for Swedish people, they’re even shorter. The sun was setting at 15:00 in December and most of the days were cloudy. The sun was playing hide and seek, but only playing the hiding part. The good side of this weather is that whenever there is a ray of sunshine, it’s paradise and I really appreciated it.
Cozy room and Christmas preparation are the key
When the days are short and dark, the key thing is to fill your spare time with cozy downtime at home. We installed fairy lights in the living rooms and bought scented candles, and to add even more warmness to the room, we put a fake fire on the tv. Cafés are also great to spend time outside (but not in the cold) and eat delicious cakes, for this I can recommend in Växjö three places: Top Notch bakery, Broqvist konditori and Skåres konditori.
You can also fill your time with Christmas-related activities such as a Christmas market tour, as we did in Huseby which is the number one Christmas market in Sweden, it was like a small Christmas village as the Christmas market takes place in the entire town.
Visiting friends is always a great thing to do, especially if they live in different cities. And that’s what I and the other volunteers did in November in Jonköping and in Borås in January, we visited some other volunteers that we met in Stockholm during the on-arrival training. It felt very comforting to see each other again and spend time visiting new cities together. And when the warmth is not outside it can be inside in our hearts.
As I mentioned before, I’m currently living in the south of Sweden, and it’s not the coldest part of Sweden, so the winter is manageable. As for the place we travel to in February, winter completely influences the life of the inhabitants, this place is: Lapland.
Me and the other volunteers travelled to Abisko, and to say the least, it was magical. It’s a trip worth the money you put in it, even taking the night train is a whole experience, I mean 18 hours on a train how can it not be memorable?
We had rented a small cottage in Abisko tourist station and from this place we had access to a lot of hiking paths and activities. We only did one as the price were high: we went on a snowshoe hike on the second day. We also watched the northern lights every night at the lake (30 minutes by walk from our cottage) where the view was clearer or only from our cottage living room window when we were tired after a day of hiking. One thing that is important to mention is: the sauna. Indeed, every resident has access to two free saunas, perfect for 5 people, you just need to reserve an hour and the sauna is yours.
If you don’t have snow equipment like snow pants or snowshoes, you can try to ask your social mentor or/and go to Erikshjälpen second-hand shop or search in the villa.
Planning for the sunnier and warmer days
Winter is a great time of the year to plan trips when you will be able to enjoy time outside. Trips can be only on weekends or bigger ones for example for Midsommar or Easter. I and the other volunteers did a road trip during the last weekend of February in the south of Sweden near the coast. To say the least, it was beautiful and so refreshing after the latest cold days, as it was so sunny and warm, it felt like spring was already there. I think during the volunteer program we need to take all the possibilities to travel. It’s such a rich experience.
Take care of your body and your mental health
This time of the year can be hard for your mental health as the sun is mostly not here, so you have to take care of it and not stay in a bad state for a long period. Mostly talk about it, I’m sure you are not the only one feeling like this, it’s quite frequent. Also, important advice to take care of your body, it’s to put on enough layers of clothes when it’s cold, move your body and also eat delicious things. From January to the end of February all bakeries and konditori are selling Semla: a typical Swedish pastry, and at Skåres konditori each week there is a different version of it, so I can only recommend it.
This is my experience of winter in Sweden. To summarize it, I would say to just enjoy those times, because perhaps you won’t experience this another time, and just relax.
This is me: I’m Sarah, 21 years old and I’m from the west coast of France. I am ESC volunteer at Funkibator in the city of Växjö in Sweden from September 2021 to August 2022.