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Musings on the Danish Sun

When I first arrived in Copenhagen, one of the things I found a little bit strange was how much the locals fixated on the weather. In those late days of January, it was dark and just above freezing, but it wasn’t much worse than what I grew up with in Massachusetts. At home we talk about the weather, but most often when there is a blizzard coming or when the temperature is at one extreme or another. Here in Denmark, it seemed like people were talking about normal daily occurrences, like if the sun came out for a few minutes in the afternoon. At first I thought people talked more about the weather here because taking public transportation, biking and walking are more common in Copenhagen than most places in the U.S. All of these forms of transportation require people to spend more time outside, so I figured that the whims of the weather might have more relevance to daily life. 

As I paid more attention, I realized that it often wasn’t the overall weather that was the focus of conversations, but the presence or absence of the sun. I kept hearing phrases like “if the sun is out, the Danes will be too” or “Danish people are like cats, they will always find a warm patch of sunlight to sit in.” (An unrelated favorite of my host dad is: the Danes change moods like the weather). And then I started to notice that on a sunny afternoon, people really would flock to the sunny part of the street. Even on the cold days, noticeable crowds of people could be found on the northeast side of Dronning Louises Bro taking in as much vitamin D as possible. On an intellectual level, these tendencies made sense; in a place with such long and dark winters, of course people take advantage of the sunlight when it’s available. At this point, though, I didn’t really understand it. 


One day in early February, my host sister asked if I wanted to go out for a walk. It was a slow Wednesday so I was eager to go on an adventure. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and we walked to a nearby park to enjoy the weather. Plenty of other people had the same idea on their lunch break, so we were lucky to claim the last bench. All bundled up to fight the mid-winter cold, we sat outside in our sunglasses for an hour and soaked up the warm rays. I didn’t realize how much I had missed the sun until I experienced its full force. It was as if the light was cutting through the sleepy haze of waking up for class in the dark, or the cold and gloomy walks to and from the bus stop outside of daylight hours. Don’t get me wrong, there were benefits to being up before the sun made an appearance, like watching the city buildings glow in the reflection of the sunrise. But I didn’t recognize that those winter mornings had been draining until I was completely embracing the sun. 

In the time since, I’ve spent many more days cold-weather sunbathing. It was consistently chilly through the end of April, and it’s been sporadically cool since then, so there have been plenty of opportunities. If I catch a glimpse of the sun, I feel the Danish urge to go outside and photosynthesize. This philosophy holds true not just for the sunlight, but also on a more conceptual level. This culture also translates to embracing the good moments when they’re presented. Changing my sun habits has made me more willing to be spontaneous and to just say yes – something that has been so valuable in an increasingly fleeting semester abroad. My newfound relationship with the weather is a tangible representation of the (somewhat cliché) sentiment that there’s no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring, so it’s important to embrace today. 

Getting some sun after winter bathing. Yes, I am wearing socks. It was cold.

I’ve been lucky enough to stay in Copenhagen an extra week beyond the end of the program, which has given me the opportunity to experience the sun when it’s warm out too! Sunny summer days are an amplified version of winter ones. The city is teeming with life as people flock to the parks and harbor to lounge and swim. This past weekend especially was beautiful with clear skies and temperatures nearing 70ºF. There’s a new energy everywhere that only summer can bring. It’s been the best way to begin the end of my stay in Copenhagen. As I get ready to go, I’m incredibly grateful to be taking with me a sense of spontaneity and appreciation for the good days. I’m pretty certain that I’ll be found sunbathing in the dead of winter for many years to come.

P.S. Many thanks to Eliana for workshopping this post!


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