Unsurprisingly, the long, dark winters have a tangible effect on the Swedish psyche. During the winter months, you’ll find that people are generally quieter and more withdrawn, and protect themselves from the rigours of the cold and dark by deliberately socializing indoors, often choosing to light candles throughout the home to create a sense of cosiness. You’ll even see candles burning in public buildings and shops to brighten up the gloomiest time of year. It’s during winter that Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., causes widespread depression, affecting roughly one in five people. Although you’re unlikely to suffer during a short visit in winter, you’re likely to encounter gloomy faces and a general sense of inertia throughout the winter months. S.A.D. is caused by a lack of daylight which leads to an increase in the production of the sleep-related hormone, melatonin, secreted from a gland in the brain. Naturally people do all they can to alleviate the effects of winter; for example, during the period of 24-hour darkness in northern Sweden, the Winter Swede creates a semblance of day and night by switching on bright lights during what would be daytime, and using low-lighting during the evening hours. Once spring arrives, there’s a notable bounce in people’s step, and the Summer Swede prepares to emerge from months of enforced hibernation – you’ll see people sitting in lines on park benches in the sunshine, faces tilted to the sky, making the most of the return of the sun. Festivals and revelries are thick on the ground in spring and summer, and outdoor life is lived to the full, including picnics under the midnight sun, beach parties lasting late into the night and an exodus to the countryside as people take up residence in their forest or lakeside log cabins to enjoy the brief yet intense summer months.
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