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04 December 2004

Kaamos the dark time, November the dead month

Feeding the frozen ducks
Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Kaamos is the Finnish word used to describe "the dark time". Dictionaries will give you definitions like "the polar night", and in its purest form this is a correct rendering of the word, as kaamos is used to describe that milky-blue hazy light in Lapland that occurs during the daylight hours in winter when the sun does not rise above the horizon. However, the term is also used in a broader sense to describe the dim, dark days of late autumn, when there is often no snow on the ground (as there would be in the deeper winter on the other side of the solstice) to reflect what little light may be granted...

It is singularly apt that of the Finnish months - which all have names that mean something, plus the suffix -kuu (for "moon", or "month") - it is November or Marraskuu that means "dead month".

William Moore in Helsingin Sanomat, via ChrisDodo

It is almost a year since I moved to Helsinki. Almost but not quite and that's significant. I moved here in December last year and therefore missed November. Matt moved here earlier and for almost a year warned me about November. Whenever I praised life in Helsinki to outsiders he always added 'but Fiona hasn't been here in November'. I have to admit that this annoyed me greatly for almost a year and I vowed to enjoy November. As autumn faded, I took long walks home, around Töölönlahti lake, pausing to really look at the coloured berries, the fallen leaves. I was sure I could store enough colour to carry me through November and on to the snow. I didn't.

November has been the darkest month. There have been interludes of light and snow but I haven't had such a prolonged, dark mood since in many years. And it is a shared darkness; the whole city's been in a bad mood.

According to the Finns it all changes on 6 December, Finland's independence day (and also my birthday); if you've made it that far with your sanity intact, you're safe. So, not long to go now but just to ensure we all make it, I think I'll spend the final day of dark, dead time with Helsinki's Forces of Light, which culminates in fire performances and circus acts in Old Church Park.

Radio 4, that most reliable friend, is also treating us to a week of autobiographical short stories by Finnish writer Tove Jansson (author of The Summer Book and creator of the Moomins): Sculptor's Daughter. It starts on Monday. Thank you, Radio 4.

Posted at 02:57 PM | Permalink


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Okay, that was a nice long break but it's time to get cracking. (I wonder where does that phrase come from…) First up, best wishes to Peter, Vesku, Raimo, Jari, and the rest of my finnish friends on Independence Day.... [Read More]

Tracked on 7 Dec 2004 00:31:31


Hey! Happy Birthday!

Posted by: jenny at 6 Dec 2004 17:04:44

It is interesting that the Finnish language doesn't have a future tense! Enjoyed your post.

Posted by: Piika at 22 May 2006 17:48:08