8 Tips for Embracing Winter From a TikToker Who Lives in the Polar Night

embracing-the-darkness-of-winter - Credit: Willem Verbeeck*
embracing-the-darkness-of-winter - Credit: Willem Verbeeck*

People in the the United States and some other parts of the world marked the end of daylight saving time this past week with the ritual grumbling over early sunsets and worrying about the long winter ahead. In order to better prepare for the months ahead, Rolling Stone sought the advice of Cecilia Blomdahl, who saw the sun set for the last time this year on Oct. 27 and won’t see it rise again until March 2023.

Blomdahl, a resident of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard near the North Pole, is known for her TikToks chronicling her life in a cabin on the tundra. Some of her most popular videos, racking up millions of views each, document the island’s seasonal extremes. At such a high latitude, by this time of year, the tilting of the earth’s axis has tipped Svalbard so far into darkness that the sun doesn’t cross its horizon, no matter the time of day. Between mid-November and late February, Svalbard will be so far in shadow that daytime there will be a total blackout, as dark as midnight, 24 hours a day. The four sunless months, where temperatures average in the teens, are known as the polar night.

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It is Blomdahl’s favorite time of year.

Blomdahl, 32, arrived in Svalbard in 2015 on a lark. A few colleagues from the hotel where she worked in her home country of Sweden decided to move there, and Blomdahl, having already lived in London, Sydney, and Miami during her adult life, was ready for her next adventure. “At that point, I had never even heard about Svalbard, I did not know it existed,” she says. “I was like, that sounds exciting. Polar bears! I decided to just come here and work for a little bit. And then I never left.”

While living in Svalbard took some adapting, Blomdahl has always loved the winter. She finds the midnight sun – the period of summer opposite the polar night where the sun is up 24 hours a day stressful, “like a long psychosis,” she tells Rolling Stone. “For me, the endless daylight is a little bit mind-crazy,” she says. “You can never get out of it. It’s a lot more intense. I love polar night so much more because it comes with such a feeling of coziness and community. And it’s a lot easier on the body.”

When Blomdahl first began posting on TikTok in late 2020, her videos resonated with people looking to indulge their escapist fantasies during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Her early viral hits, like an 18-second video showing polar bear tracks beneath the Northern Lights, soon gave way to day-in-the-life content as viewers expressed fascination with her remote lifestyle. On her channel, she describes working in the only women’s retail store on the island, preparing kefir for breakfast, and how she renovated the cabin she purchased three years ago with her boyfriend, Christoffer, so that they can shower on site. Commenters often ask about the Svalbard dating scene – she met her partner while working as a booking manager for a restaurant in the island’s main village of Longyearbyen.

With a background in wildlife and drone photography, Blomdahl excels at capturing the majestic scenery outside her door, like the glaciers and fin whales in the fjord she can see from her porch. But viewers also flock to her more mundane content, like videos starring her finnish lapphund, Grim, tutorials on how she makes her bed, and vlogs of her going to her manicurist in town. Blomdahl’s voiceover is upbeat and guileless, totally lacking in any affectations one might associate with TikTok voice.

“My name is Cecilia and I live on Svalbard an island close to the North Pole,” she says at the start of each video, oftentimes in one breath. Recent posts have delved more into the quirks of living on the island, like rules against owning cats – too big a risk to the ecosystem – and a requirement that pregnant people fly to mainland Norway from the lone airport one month before their due date. The combination of lifestyle and adventure content works, drawing a fandom of more than two million followers and 48 million likes to her page. About a year ago, Blomdahl and Christoffer quit their day jobs to dedicate themselves full time to her social media channels.

As the seasons shift, Blomdahl, who seems to be consistently chipper, celebrates the changes to her routine. When sunsets finally returned after the summer of round-the-clock brightness, she posted a video declaring September the start of “home cinema season,” and cheered that it  was dark enough outside to watch movies on her cabin’s screen projector. A month later, videos of her preparing for the start of the polar night, which began Oct. 27, drew millions of views. In the posts, she and Christoffer clean house, hang string lights, do laundry, light candles, and take in some of the final sunsets of the year. The scene is ultra cozy – a dimly lit Scandinavian-style living room with a fire burning, wood stacked nearby, and a darkening sea visible through the windows. It’s a vibe Blomdahl could teach a masterclass in – “Our whole life is hygge,” she says at one point, referring to the Danish word evoking coziness and comfort – and we asked her to do just that.

Here, Blomdahl offers Rolling Stone her best tips for thriving during winter, which for many can feel like a polar night even if they still see the sun every day. She says more people should embrace the season. “I really think it is a matter of how you go into it,” she says. “There’s so much beauty in the darkness.”

Get the right light

“Since we don’t have any natural light at all during the polar night, you would be surprised how dark a house gets. It’s really difficult to light up a house [during the day] when there’s no real light at all. So make sure you have enough lighting. Try to find that yellow light, because white light is quite harsh on you, it’s going to make you feel tired. String lights are the best thing in the entire world. I don’t know why it’s such a mood booster but there’s just something magical about it. We have them lining the entire ceiling. They’re just around a copper wire. It costs almost nothing and it brings you so much joy.

“For mornings, wake-up lights are life-changing. It wakes you slowly with the [simulated] sunrise, and I definitely need that help. I’m a master sleeper. I always sleep at least nine hours, and I could knock out 12 If nobody woke me up. So for me, a wake-up light has been genius. We also installed Philips Hue [smart lights], so now we put the whole house on automation so in the morning everything is just gradually getting lighter. It’s so much easier to get out of bed if it’s already nicely lit. I definitely make a point of trying to go to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time.”

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“In the winter here, everything is in this beautiful kind of dim lighting. So I need to make sure I clean the entire house, because I probably won’t see that kind of dirt later. I also like the feeling of preparing myself. It’s a mental thing. We also change out our duvets from summer duvets, we start to shift out our shoes. Because it’s going to get slippery outside, we bring out gear like crampons, and we put all of our headlights by the door, because now every time we go out anywhere, we’re going to need a headlight. We buy a bunch of wood and fill up the racks with it, basically just doing all of that winterizing.”

Make sure you’re warm when you’re inside

“It’s good to keep your house at a temperature that makes you comfortable. During winter, we have the house at 22 degrees [celsius, or over 71 degrees F]. I wear long sleeves, a lot of turtlenecks, and there are a lot of socks everywhere, so you have them. All of the houses here are built on stilts, so there’s always air flowing underneath. You would never be here without proper slippers because the floor is super, super cold. All the little things play into how you feel. If you’re walking around and feel tired and cold, that’s not nice.”

Lean into ‘you’ time

“It is such a calm time of year, it’s a great time to focus on yourself. You have this super intense period of the summer you’re out socializing, you’re doing so much. Now you have this time where you can really just relax, read a lot of books, do things that make you feel good, and recharge your energy.

“I make sure to do everything that I like, even more during this time of year, almost to fool myself. Maybe I will watch a Christmas movie in the morning. Really make sure to take control of your day and do all of those things that make you happy and try to have a good mindset going into it and see what changes.”

Get outside – but dress for it

“My biggest advice during winter: go outside. You can do everything that you can in summer. All you need is a headlamp and good layers. Coming from Sweden, it took me two years to understand how I should actually dress to stay warm. In Norway, you grow up knowing that you should wear wool. in Sweden, where I come from, for some reason they didn’t teach me that, so I was always a bit cold. But here, all you need is really good layers of wool. Layer it on, go outside, and it’s going to be so nice. There’s so much you can do! You can look at the stars. You can go for a nice hike. You just need to not be scared of going outside.”

Eat well – but not all broccoli

“It is such a different time of year, you have to think about things differently. During summer, we’re out all the time, you get this free vitamin D, this free boost of energy. In the winter, there’s nothing helping you, so I’m so much more rigid like, I’ve got to eat my vegetables, I have to take my vitamin D pills. But it doesn’t only have to be healthy food. Give your body all of this coziness. Make cinnamon buns, because it really is worth the whole vibe of making winter cozy. I will definitely allow myself to drink a lot more coffee during the polar night because I probably will need it. I won’t limit myself. But I also definitely try to make a point of getting all of those vitamins in, because you will feel a difference.”

Move around

“In the winter, I really do work out, because I notice it so much quicker if I don’t. You will feel tired in a different way. I love going for walks with my dog. That is the perfect free exercise. Just make sure to enjoy it. I feel like a lot of people are like, ‘Oh no, I have to walk my dog.’ I love walking him. It’s the best time for him, and I get a free 40-minute walk in the fresh air. I also go to the gym, and I bought [a stationary] bike. I’ll just sit on it for 30 minutes some days. It’s a good way to get moving. But if I had to choose between going outside versus working out here I would take fresh air. It’s an accomplishment, going outside. I always say, when I start to get really tired of polar night, I go into the night because it opens up that dark world a lot more. From inside, it looks worse than it is when you’re outside. It’s always nicer when you just go outside.”

If you’re struggling, talk to someone

“I think therapy is so good. Sometimes you really need help sorting out your thoughts. Last winter, I had the only polar night where I felt like it was difficult on me. I’m a person who has a very sunny mindset, so it was interesting to see the effect that polar night had on me. I had just started my business, so I was really stressed, and that kind of broke me down. I wasn’t following my schedule, I was overworked, and I straightaway saw the result of it. I had anxiety, I was having a really hard time trying to get up [in the mornings]. It was so important to me to see that if I don’t take care of myself, I will start to deteriorate. I need to really make sure that my schedule is good, that I’m doing things that make me feel good, that I am doing my exercise sets. I did a few therapy sessions at the time, which I thought was really, really good. Because you need somebody to talk to, to kind of guide you through your thoughts. Just always make sure to talk to people if you feel like it’s heavy, because you can definitely work through it.”

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