The Return of the Sun


Most of us who live in more southerly latitudes do not know almost true darkness, that it to say, a darkness that envelopes both day and night. For those that live above the Arctic Circle in winter, the sun does not rise; indeed, this is the very definition of arctic. The boundary of the Arctic Circle demarcates the first place from which there is at least one day in the year with no direct sunlight, where the sun does not break the horizon, giving its own remarkable blue/orange/magenta qualities, but no direct, horizon-piercing light.

The population of Ilulissat, 350km/ 220 miles above the Arctic Circle in Northwest Greenland, numbering just over 4,500 as of 2013, the darkness of the Arctic winter is very much a reality. 

It is for this reason that January 13th is a highly significant day; it is the day that, after a long period of many weeks, the sun finally returns. It makes a small hop of barely a single degree over the horizon.


Catching the sun in its brief 51 minute appearance calls for a special kind of annual journey, a pilgrimage, if you will; 1/3 of the town travels by snowmobile, by helicopter, on dog sled, by cross-country, on foot, indeed any way they can to Seqinniarfik (“the place where to go and greet the sun” in Greenlandic), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Ilulissat Icefjord. It is a remarkable location in its own right, adding the return of the sun makes it into something very special indeed.

Here, the sun is met with joy and jubilation every year. It is a remarkable festivity and is feverishly anticipated: children prepare songs and drawing and people celebrate with their families.

Photo: Sarah Woodall

Sun rise on the fjord

Give and Take

It is a remarkable sort of balance which people of the near-arctic such as Iceland will understand well: the light that is taken away in winter given abundantly in summer.

That Lucky Old Sun

In life, anything can be taken for granted. The idea of taking the sun for granted is comical to the point of absurd, but the point stands: it is only when you have been without something for a determined period of time that you realise just how much joy it brings you.  

The return of the sun in Ilulissat and in other towns over northern Greenland, is just one such story.

Photo: Sarah Woodall

Sunset the next day, 14.01


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