Wednesday marked summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. From now on, each day will be a little shorter than the previous, until we reach the depths of winter.
For arctic countries this is especially significant, as the solstice marks either perpetual light, or darkness (and a complete pointlessness to have summer and winter time, although that’s another matter – but seriously we should follow Russia’s lead and do away with seasonal clock setting entirely).
Bergen is located around a Auckland-Wellington’s length south of the Arctic Circle, meaning during summer the sun does set, but only just. Sunset here is at 11.11pm, rising again around 4am, but the sun’s low angle means darkness is absent, and instead what we get is a bizarre twilight – light enough to read a newspaper outside at 2am, and light enough to wreak havoc on our sleep cycle.
We hear birds chirping outside our window throughout the night, presumably also going psychotic from the lack of sleep (the birds, not us).
But I digress. Wednesday marked summer solstice*.
It’s an event which has roots dating back to Pagan times, and is celebrated throughout Europe, but especially here in Scandinavia.
Here in Bergen, bonfires are the thing to mark the day.
As the solstice approached we saw people preparing their wooden stacks on their farms, in their backyards, and in public parks.
Just down the road from us, was the Laksevåg bonfire, proudly claimed as the largest in the world, carefully constructed from only the finest wooden barrels.
We decided to check it out.
Men scaled the top with climbing harnesses in order to light it and ensure it burns down in a candle-like fashion and not collapse in catastrophe.
The fire brigade was on close guard, strategically watering the fire, to ensure it burnt smoothly from top to bottom.
It was a controlled fire, starting at 9.30, and timed to go until midnight.
A little exhausted from our bike ride earlier in the day, we only stayed long enough to watch the fire peak, after which we slowly rambled back home, collapsing in our bed, too tired to go through the daily ritual of covering up all windows and doors, to try and mimic darkness.
We checked out the aftermath the next day, despite the rain, smoke still lingered, but all that was left were a few hundred or perhaps thousand metal barrel rings.
Tonight sunset will be at 11.10pm.
*And also our one year Norway anniversary.