This is what noon looks like in Ilulissat on the first day of sunlight. Photo by the author.
To live in Greenland is to accept a life powered by the natural environment. Regardless of whether one is a CEO in the arctic metropolis of Nuuk or a fisherman from a settlement in Disko Bay, the nature influences everything and everyone.
For the last six weeks in Ilulissat in northwest Greenland, the sun has not come over the horizon, leaving the town and landscape cloaked in hues that range from cool twilight to intense magenta to complete darkness, but never daylight. Such is normal life when you live three hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, you’re used to transition into a state of Polar darkness with every yearly cycle.
There is a balance to this lifestyle, though, and for every day without sunrise during the dark winter period, there is a day in the time of the midnight sun with sunlight all day -and all night- long. Each is an extreme in its own right.
Last week the sun finally rose again in Ilulissat, so now it is only forward into the light. The people of Ilulissat are ready for it. The feelings of renewed happiness and being able to breathe again linger in the streets and in gratuitous smiles. The return of the sun means the return of a special nature-driven energy that lives inside Greenlanders.
Celebrating the return of the sun is an annual ritual in Ilulissat, with workplaces and schools closing early so that all have the opportunity to enjoy. A bit before midday on the 13th of January, there is a mass exodus out of town toward a natural viewpoint called Seqinniarfik, which is Greenlandic for “the place to catch the sun”.
Seqinniarfik is catalogued as UNESCO World Heritage Site to watch the sun come up over the mountains on the south side of the Ilulissat Icefjord, take a small skip across the sky, and go down again a mere 52 minutes later.
A decent off-road trek across snowy terrain is all that stands between you and watching the glowing sun rise from the horizon, and people get out there in any way they can – snowmobile, dog sledge, cross-country skis, and the old one foot in front of the other.
Experiencing Ilulissat on this significant day gives a whole new perspective on time, the planet, and life in the Arctic. Seeing the sun has never been more special.